It is probably not a big surprise to learn that work place conflict is on the increase. Redundancies, pay freezes, changes in working practises, fewer holidays, loss of bonuses and reduced pension entitlements, it would be surprising if these unwanted changes didn’t increased conflict in the work place.

So no one will be particularly shocked by the findings of a recent Charted Institute of Personnel Development survey that grievances, disputes and the threat of industrial action have increased in the public sector over the last 12 months. But managers still need to get on and manage the business day to day despite all this going on around them. So how do you manage through a period of conflict?

You might be able to get away with saying pay freezes and pension changes are outside your control but redundancies, management restructuring and changes in working practises will still be seen as management decisions.

Is it possible to claim to value staff and cut their pay? Can you maintain a position of openness and honesty when you are going to make people redundant? Can you afford to be sensitive and caring when you are going to cut services to vulnerable people?

Perhaps managers in the current financial climate need to develop a thicker skin to do the unpleasant stuff and to let the anger and frustration wash over them without taking it personally.

But some managers find it very difficult to be the bad guy, to introduce a more “efficient” shift system: which involves staff working longer hours often under so much pressure they are unable to take the rest breaks they are entitled to, cutting staffing levels and refusing to fill vacant posts to save money - and then pressurising people to cover for colleagues at short notice.

It is one thing to bring in changes that are unpopular with staff that still offer a better service to customer/patient or reduce costs, but it is another to makes changes that will affect care, increase waiting times, leave people in pain longer, reduce help and support to stressed cares or leave vulnerable people more exposed.

This is the difference: conflict in the workplace due to unpopular changes in working practises and terms of employment are to be expected, managers must use their negotiating skills to bring about these changes as best as possible. But conflict in the workplace due to the impact budget cuts are having on the quality of care to the sick and vulnerable? That’s a different battle altogether.


The days are already getting longer in the NHS

I have already seen effects of the above first hand.

My wife is in hospital having her gall stones removed. The hospital is clean, the care is good, the food is excellent, so no story there.

She did however comment on the long hours the staff routinely work. It appears that auxiliary staff do one week on, one week off. That nurses come on duty at 6am and go off duty at 8pm when the night staff come on duty. So instead of the traditional three shift system early, late and night, there are two shifts, the day shift and the night shift. The consultant was still on the ward when visiting ended at 8pm Saturday evening.

Then in my Sunday paper I read that research by ICM on behalf of the Royal College of Nursing found 95 per cent of NHS nurses worked more than their contracted hours and one in five does so every shift.

The findings also reported that 25 per cent of nurses provided last minute cover for a colleague at least once a fortnight. Many nurses told the survey that they have to skip meals and rarely or never have time to take the rest breaks they are entitled to.

On my way out of the ward I saw on the staff notice board that management were focusing on absenteeism. I wondered if they might make a connection!