The Blow-by-Blow on Remote Work Conflict (2021 Study)
Work conflict is as prevalent as COVID-19, and the symptoms can be tough too.
Disagreements arise for a myriad of reasons. But, there’s a distinctive difference between conflicts we face at our physical workspace vs. those dealt with remotely.
For one, anger is rarely dealt with face-to-face. There is no mediated conference room conversation. Texts can be easily misinterpreted and escalate. Some workers start their jobs remotely and have never met their colleagues. This can be an obstacle to integrating.
MyPerfectResume wanted to get a grip on who is putting up their virtual dukes, why they’re doing it, and how it’s being handled.
To get the data, we created a study relevant to our current circumstances—one focused on remote work conflict. We surveyed over 1,000 U.S. workers to get to the bottom of this phenomenon. We dove deep into thousands of data points that came out of this.
The broadest finding:
A whopping 8 out 10 respondents had experienced remote work conflict.
Some interesting data about those in conflict:
- Slightly more males had disputes vs. females. (82 percent of males vs. 80 percent of females).
- More education = More conflict. 87 percent of Master’s holders had remote fights.
- Healthcare workers were more prone to work-related friction at twenty-three percent, vs. only nine percent of those in education.
Why highly-educated workers engaged in conflict more than those with a high school degree is a mystery. More persnickety? Healthcare workers are facing tremendous stress now, so their virtual conflict engagement stands to reason.
Whom Did They Squabble With?
Coworkers are fighting amongst themselves the most. But a surprising number of employees are also getting into it with the big enchilada. We first asked our participants whom they had engaged in conflict with.
Here are some findings:
- A full 65 percent of remote workers had experienced conflict with a coworker.
- 19 percent had come to virtual blows with their boss.
- 11 percent had engaged in conflict with an external manager.
- Only five percent had a conflict with an employee working at another company.
Just to be clear, “conflict” is not negative per se. A difference of opinion can be a healthy opportunity for growth and understanding. If managed appropriately, this type of conflict can be positive.
This study was specifically homing in on the kind of conflict that causes anger and bickering.
The kind of conflict that produces this kind of message:
“An overeducated liberal *ss that thinks reading a book matters.”
Many other “gems” we received showed that the authors might sometimes be too full of steam to remember that these messages are copy/paste-able.
Nearly half of the remote workers used a work messaging app to express their aggravation.
All too frequently, messages fell into the “ism” category, with a few examples below:
- Ageism: “You’re too young and don’t know what you’re doing.”
- Sexism: “Since I’m a woman, I probably can’t work the new technology properly.”
- Racism: “She was openly racist in a group chat.”
Many messages contained curse words and outright offensive language, as in this one:
“Called me an incompetent b*tch.”
Apologies to readers for these derogatory comments; we were taken aback as well. Some of these are discrimination-suit worthy.
So, we know that texting on a work app was the most common platform for virtual fisticuffs. What else was used?
37 percent of the aggressive communication took place verbally on a video conferencing app. Some arguments went rogue, with 11 percent using a private app. Only six percent occurred via texting on a video conferencing app.
Shockingly, nearly 40 percent of our respondents reported that their bosses were too aggressive in their texts, even going so far as cursing at them.
Where does this conflict stem from? We wanted to know what was causing the frustrations.
What’s All the Fuss About?
What was the source of these conflicts?
The “why” had a three-way tie.
Lack of teamwork and work stress (25% each) and rude behavior (24%) were the primary sources of the conflicts.
Respondents also felt that dishonesty played a role at 18 percent, a clash of values at nine percent, and a scant amount (two percent) thought a false accusation was the cause of a conflict.
The nature of the relationship has a significant impact on the dynamics and how a conflict is managed. A dispute with a coworker has a much different flavor than one with your boss.
Taking On the Big Kahuna
Conflict with your BOSS…
B as in Bewildering
O as in Obnoxious
S as in Strained and
It’s all that and more.
It’s something we try to avoid, but sometimes butting heads with the boss is bound to happen.
42 percent of the remote workers had a conflict with the big chief.
Naturally, when we are up against the one who holds power over us, there’s the underlying fear of retribution.
We found that men were more often punished than women during these conflicts. 59 percent of males had some form of retribution from their bosses vs. 48 percent of women.
Some bosses tried to bury the hatchet, which is promising. But, the fact that two out of 10 left their company due to the conflict with their boss is troubling.
The outcomes from employer-employee conflicts were varied:
- We talked about it and tried to resolve it. (49 percent)
- We never tried to resolve it. (21 percent)
- I left the company due to this conflict. (20 percent)
- A third-party mediated this conflict. (8 percent)
- I hate my boss and can’t talk to him or her. (1 percent)
Bosses were less heavy-handed towards those with the most years under their belts.
Punishment levels from bosses varied based on years of experience:
- 6-10 years of experience: 79 percent
- 3-5 years: 65 percent
- 11-20 years: 37 percent
- 20+ years: 28 percent
A full 51 percent believed that the conflict they had with coworkers could have been avoided if their supervisor had offered more virtual friendly communication opportunities.
Sadly, 39 percent of the remote workers also stated that they wanted to leave/left their jobs due to issues they had with their colleagues.
Enthusiasm levels declined due to these issues. It was reported that “low employee morale” was one of the most prominent outcomes of the remote work conflicts.
It’s disturbing to think that many conflicts that can cause someone to actually leave their job could be based on a curt text message. Based on our study, texts that are a bit short or blunt were the start of trouble.
Maybe your colleague or boss is just super busy and shoots back a to-the-point message. It’s easy to interpret it negatively and then get carried away in a disagreement.
Can’t we all just get along?
We know that different stressors are facing remote workers. Managing kids—and a partner—while trying to complete a report, the neighbor’s dog yapping, a boss not answering our messages, and feelings of isolation all can play a part.
On the other side of the coin, we don’t have to deal with Larry’s smelly tuna sandwiches, the long, traffic-y commute, or fighting over copy machine hoarding.
The bottom line is that remote workers are dealing with work conflicts that probably could be avoided.
Perhaps if supervisors and human resources managers stepped in a bit more and if we could air out our grievances with some face time (even on a video conference), some in-fighting might not escalate.
About the Author!
Jen Pieniazek, a Bronx native, is a writer and career expert at MyPerfectResume. Her passion for helping others achieve their career goals is what inspires her advice pieces. With extensive experience in educational management and intercultural communication, Jen aims to help people from every background to find their perfect job. Feel free to connect on LinkedIn.