Monash University
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Dealing with workplace conflict: the 'strikingly different worlds' of managers and subordinates

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posted on 2017-01-31, 04:56 authored by McKenzie, Donald Arthur
Conflict is ever-present in Australian workplaces and is consequently embedded in the fabric of organisational life. The predominant method of dealing with workplace conflict is the utilisation of multi-step conflict resolution procedures as specified in enterprise agreements, grievance procedures and similar workplace procedures. Notwithstanding the prescriptive nature of the procedures, employees generally have a number of options to choose from including informally dealing with a conflict, negotiating a resolution through a multi-step procedure, opting for an independent third-party to deal with the issue in contention, or not choosing to participate in conflict resolution by either ignoring the conflict, or leaving the organisation. This thesis is predicated on the view that there are a number of factors that have the potential to influence employee choice. Some of those factors are more overt than others, such as unfair procedures and the power imbalance between managers and subordinates. Other factors, however, may be more subtle but nonetheless equally influential, such as the potential manipulation and exploitation of vulnerable employees, the effects of stress and anxiety and the culture of conflict that pervades the organisation. This thesis therefore examines the factors influencing employee choice from the perspective of workplace justice. Although workplace justice is a matter that arises, in varying degrees in several disciplines, including industrial relations, labour law, management, human resource management, and organisational psychology, the literature in the thesis is primarily derived from the field of organisational psychology. Four key themes are developed in literature reviews that form the framework within which an overall assessment of factors is made. They are fairness and justice; the implications of the conflict-justice-stress nexus; manager-subordinate power relationships; and organisational conflict culture. ix The thesis contributes to the advancement of knowledge concerning workplace conflict through the creation and analysis of four sources of empirical data: content analyses of various aspects of the historical development of dispute resolution procedures in Australian workplaces, and an examination of the utilisation, structure and processes of multi-step procedures; a survey of the attitudes of managers and employees in three private sector organisations concerning multi-step procedures, and a case study which explores the attitudes and behaviours of an HR Consultant, a Manager and an employee in relation to a complex workplace conflict. The thesis identifies the following six factors as affecting employee choice of conflict resolution procedures: 1. The influence of employee perceptions of workplace injustice, and a lack of understanding and awareness, particularly by managers and supervisors of the implications of workplace justice concerning conflict resolution; 2. Deficiencies in the provision of employee voice options, including the voice management competency of managers/supervisors; 3. The significant imbalance that exists in manager-subordinate power relationships, and a lack of understanding and awareness, particularly by managers and supervisors of the implications of power concerning conflict resolution; 4. The influence of stress arising from perceptions of injustice and consequent conflict, and a lack of understanding and awareness, particularly by managers and supervisors of the implications of stress concerning conflict resolution procedures; 5. The prevailing organisational conflict culture, including the way conflict is explicitly or implicitly defined within an organisation; 6. The limitations of multi-step conflict resolution procedures. Given the nature and range of the factors identified, a number of conclusions are drawn from the study that provides the basis for speculation concerning subsequent research and organisational implications.


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Principal supervisor

Marjorie Jerrard

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Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Business and Economics

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