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Conflict pressure cooker: Nurse managers’ conflict management experiences in a diverse South African workplace

Angela Koesnell
Petra Bester
Christi Niesing


Background: Nurse managers are central to conflict management and a healthy work environment. South Africa is one of the most diverse  countries globally and workplace diversity is a reality in healthcare organisations. There is a gap in academic literature on conflict management by nurse managers in diverse workplaces in South Africa.
Aim: This research aims to understand nurse managers’ experiences of conflict management within a diverse South African workplace (military hospital) in order to facilitate a healthy work environment.
Setting: The context was a diverse, medical military organisation servicing all nine South African provinces. This military hospital employed staff of varying nationalities, catering to military and private patients, and functioned within a strict hierarchical structure.
Methods: Purposive sampling was used. Thirteen unstructured, individual interviews were conducted based on a qualitative, phenomenological  design. The interviews were followed by content analysis and five main themes emerged as a result.
Results: A hierarchical, diverse organisational culture complicates conflict management. The ranking structure, resource shortages,  intergenerational dynamics, poor communication and distrust cause conflict. Nurse managers experience conflict daily and are central to conflict
management. As such, they have certain personal characteristics and display specific conflict management skills. Conflict management skills can be taught, but this requires an intra- to interpersonal process. A major challenge for the nursing profession today is the younger nurses who seem less passionate and nurse managers who are under more pressure than before.
Conclusion: A medical military organisation presents an organisational culture that combined with diversity is predisposed to conflict, which  endangers the work environment. Yet, both conflict and workplace diversity can, when managed correctly, enrich a healthcare organisation. Nurses and nurse managers will benefit from reflective conflict management training as an intra- to interpersonal process.

Keywords: healthy work environment; positive practice environment; workplace diversity; conflict management; nurse manager; medical military organisation.