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Conflict or victimisation – important to act immediately

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Conflicts, bullying and victimisation can arise in all workplaces. As a manager it is important to be aware of the differences because they should be addressed and handled in different ways, so as to resolve the problems and reduce the consequences for both individuals and the organisation.

Most people have been involved in a conflict at some time. They are often transient and perhaps even lead to something positive, but sometimes conflicts get a hold and escalate. Annmarie Ulfving Plynning is an organisational consultant at Falck Previa and works on investigating victimisation in workplaces, something she often sees could have been avoided if a conflict had been stopped in time.

“As a manager, you can’t just duck out of tough situations because you don’t have time or feel uncertain. You have to be prepared to acquire the knowledge you don’t have and find support to help manage conflicts that arise; it’s part of the job,” she says.

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A person who feels victimised can never be questioned

The difference between a conflict and victimisation

How do we see the difference between conflicts and victimisation and how should they be handled? While a conflict is often tangible in that two or more parties have completely different views on a problem and how it should be resolved, in brief, victimisation is seriously disrespectful and belittling behaviour that is directed at one or more others. It is work environment legislation (primarily AFS 2001:1 SAM and AFS 2015:4 OSA) in combination with internal rules that control what a manager should do in different situations.

“We should remember that victimisation is a subjective experience. A person who feels victimised can never be questioned but it is possible that the incident does not correspond to the legal definition of victimisation,” says Annmarie Ulfving Plynning, who continues:

“It is important to act promptly and make an assessment of the situation. This is the primary starting point to work out what kind of situation it is and how you should act as a manager.”

Investigation of victimisation

Per Larsson is also an organisational consultant at Falck Previa. He was involved in drawing up the Agency for Work Environment Knowledge (MYNAK) Guidelines for handling social health risks at work - victimisation and bullying. The guidelines formulate three principles that should apply to all measures:

  • Respect means that everyone in an organisation deserves to be treated with the same consideration and thought.
  • Objectivity is about decisions, measures and the like being reached on reasonable and explicable grounds, but also that specific measures are reasonable in proportion to the problem to be resolved.
  • Being systematic is about measures and procedures being applied in a predictable and similar way in situations that are similar, but also about being prepared to correct measures or results if important new information arises. That is to say, taking one matter at a time and continuing with risk assessing development.

“Sometimes an investigation is really needed and this will often become apparent when you first start gathering information. There are clear signs that the work environment has been weakening for a long time and conflicts may have escalated so that one or both parties have acted in a harassing manner. In serious cases, the employer may need to take action under employment law,” says Per Larsson.

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Educate managers, union representatives, health & safety representatives - and also employees

Preventive work is effective

Both Annmarie and Per highlight the importance of preventive work. If there is knowledge of how to work preventively, if you have procedures for handling conflicts early, procedures for handling perceptions of victimisation and a good knowledge of risk factors, then the organisation is on solid ground.

“Leadership is key to preventive work. You should be a good role model, with active, encouraging, fair and inclusive leadership. Create the conditions for good collaboration, where everyone is invited to take responsibility. We know, for example, that one of the most common risk factors for victimisation and conflicts is an unhealthy workload. As a manager, you have a responsibility for creating the right conditions for the work and ensuring that resources are adapted to the demands of the work,” says Annmarie Ulfving Plynning.

“Educate managers, union representatives, health & safety representatives - and also employees. This raises the level of knowledge considerably. It will mean that considerably more people understand and take notice of situations that are not acceptable and can act according to the internal procedures. This should mean that conflicts and risky behaviour are noticed and acted upon much earlier,” says Per Larsson.

Handling conflicts at work


  1. Clear procedures
    Create clear procedures that include conflict guidance if someone finds themselves in a conflict or collaboration difficulties. Implement the procedures throughout the organisation.

  2. Get support
    If you feel uncertain about being able to handle a conflict well as a manager, do not delay in asking for help and support from HR or your occupational health service.

  3. Act promptly
    Take the situation seriously and talk to those involved. Create a preliminary picture of the situation from what the individuals tell you.

  4. End up with concrete measures
    Make an action plan together with those involved, which you can then follow up. Document the plan and your decisions.

  5. Offer support
    Offer support and relief to those involved. Repeat the offer.