In an organization, the primary objective of management in a competitive and cost-conscious environment will be to achieve goals of high profit with low production and maintenance costs. To fulfill this objective Employers sometimes place “Competing and Conflicting Demands in HSE” on workers. 

Under this way of looking at organizations, health, and safety might be represented as a non-productive cost. As a result, in many organizations, health, and safety is not a priority of management. Instead, it may be seen as conflicting with the need to increase production, pursue higher sales figures, or cut costs.


In a situation where an employer takes little responsibility for the protection of his workers’ health and safety, the result will be conflicts, serious workplace accidents, injuries, or diseases. Management as well as employees have to deal with “Competing and Conflicting Demands”


Competing demands occur when management requires more to be done than available resources suggest it is possible to do. Where competing demands are deemed to be of comparable importance for managers and decision-makers, tensions arise over resource allocation and prioritization.


For competing demands to be sensed as contradictory, it is not sufficient that demands be competing as there must also be managerial “perceptions of opposing and interwoven elements”. How they are dealt with depends on “how much time, energy, and effort go into one demand versus the other”.

The struggle to meet competing demands has spurred many dichotomous abstractions in organizations, that require balancing the following:

  • exploration and exploitation efficiency and flexibility
  • empowerment (power to) and power over
  • the management of order and chaos
  • efficiency and flexibility
  • managing evolutionary and revolutionary change.  

An Exuberance of Competing Demands

The management of competing demands is a contingency that frames organizational design. How competing demands, such as exploration and exploitation, are accommodated can be conceptualized in various ways, often with overlapping features, introducing a degree of analytical ambiguity and confusion. 

It is important to be able to distinguish between different types of competing demands. For example, a situation that is one presenting paradox from other related concepts, such as:

  • those that pose dilemmas, prompt irony, generate inconsistency, foster dialectics, create ambivalence, or produce conflict.
  • identify distinctions among dualities, paradoxes, trade-offs, and dilemmas. 
  • distinguish paradox from duality, dilemma, and dialectic. 

Discriminating among these distinctions generates a “conceptual malaise” which can be resolved by offering definitions of various concepts such as:

tension, duality, dualism, contradiction, dialectics, and paradox. 

In studying competing demands, organization members might be seen by some observers to be dealing with duality or paradox while others might see them as dealing with something different but equally distinctive. Such representational confusion means that in practice, when faced with such demands, organization members have no clear guidance as to whether to attend to them either separately across time and space or simultaneously. 

Conceptualizations Of Competing Demands

Conceptualizations of competing demands imply assumptions about the relationships between these demands, for example, whether they are oppositional or interdependent.  

Considering the increased complexity and nature of the environment, the “One-Best-Way” Approach has given way to one in which organizations deal with multiple demands simultaneously or across time and space. 


If a competing demand is conceptualized as a dilemma, these demands may be attended to separately because they are merely competing for attention. There is no assumption that the two “horns of a dilemma” are contradictory, interrelated, complementary, and compatible. Moreover, the prescription for action is different if one is more likely to be selected at the expense of the other.  There should be a clear decision, one way or the other, one alternative must be preferred. 


If tension is conceptualized as a trade-off, it comprises two demands that are compatible but oppositional and that require separate attention. Moreover, although they can function together in a constant tug-of-war, they are not present at their full strength. 

Since the demands are neither interrelated nor complementary, it means that more of one demand means less of the other (for example, work/life balance).


When tensions are conceptualized as dialectics, the two demands are contradictory and interrelated. In a dialectic, the two demands are antagonistic: one emerges due to the dominance of the other; hence, they are not compatible. Because there is a resolution involved, push-pull is not present. 

In dialectics, one demand follows the other and the two do not exist simultaneously but rather across time and space.


Tensions conceptualized as dualities consist of two demands that are interrelated, complementary, compatible, and simultaneous. Because the two are not necessarily contradictory, the tug-of-war between them is not as pronounced as in a trade-off. 


Accordingly, dualities imply a “twofold character of an object of study without separation”. They are neither necessarily antagonistic nor separate. One cannot be understood in the absence of the other, so there is less focus on the contradiction.


Paradoxes are contradictory dyads, with complementary and interrelated poles. They exist simultaneously and reinforce one another, such that the push-pull of the opposites persists over time. In a paradox, the push-pull is embraced and used as a source of energy while in a trade-off the push-pull is minimized and settled by reaching a compromise middle-ground solution.

Paradox feature is defined in terms of “contradictory, yet interrelated organizational elements that exist simultaneously,” with the tensions between them expressing persistence or stubbornness. Tensions are used as a source of energy.

Distinctions For Conceptual Clarity

Competing demands can be understood based on how their inherent features are constituted in practice. Commonly, two forms of constitution are in play: one negative, the other positive.

 Competing demands and their associated tensions may be treated as:

  • Firstly, a source of anxiety and discomfort, and organization designers and members will thus attempt to avoid, suppress, or resolve them.
  • Secondly, they may be approached as a source of energy thus calling for creativity.

In this formulation of being “consistently inconsistent,” as soon as the competing demands are separated, paradox ceases to exist because paradox involves unceasing push-pull. 


Many times, conflict will compromise safety in the real world and the conflict of demand becomes a barrier to maintaining good standards of health and safety and may cause accident rates to increase.


common conflict of interest is like:

‘Demand to increase the supply of a product or service by speeding up the process to make a profit’ or ‘to do so safely’?

Conflict Of Standards Demands

Conflict may be created when there is a need to comply with different types of standards at the same time and same place like ‘Health and Safety Laws as well as ‘Environmental Protection Laws’.

It is obvious that the theme for both is conflicting:

  • Health and safety standards demand the prompt removal of hazardous waste material from the workplace.
  • Environment protection standards refrain from throwing it in an environment so some standards can be compromised.

This type of conflict of standards also becomes a barrier to maintaining or promoting good standards of health and safety. 

Barriers to Positive Safety Culture

Conflicts between individual or group goals and the demands for the job and a healthy and safe workplace that meet the needs of individuals and provide a motivation to perform effectively.

For example:

  • the pursuit of higher levels of output to attract bonus payments
  •  working excessive numbers of hours,
  • patterns of social interaction which may cause distraction or loss of attention
  • individual characteristics and suitability for the job
  • satisfaction of needs through achievements at work 
  • the extent to which the characteristics of the job and the workplace meet the needs of individuals and provide motivation to perform effectively.

All of these factors can – and should – be addressed directly by management in the interests of developing and maintaining a safe working environment.

How to Manage Conflicting Demands 

The course of action to manage conflicting demands more effectively:

  1. Your first step is to clarify your current priorities and manage your schedule effectively. This helps you know what you can do and when so that you can negotiate deadlines credibly and manage people’s expectations when they come to you with new projects.
  2.  Where you can’t squeeze a task into your schedule, an obvious thing to do is to delay activities that are not urgent or are not particularly important.
  3. Put your tasks and projects on your To-Do List or Action Program and add them to your schedule. You’ll then know which tasks clash, which tasks you may need to negotiate new deadlines for, and where you’ll need help to get things done on time. 
  4. To negotiate effectively, use Win-Win Negotiation to ensure that everyone comes away from the negotiation feeling that they’ve reached a fair compromise.
  5.  Manage expectations. It’s also important that you manage people’s expectations before you take on new tasks. For example, if you’re having a meeting with your boss, employees, or client about a possible new project, communicate your current priorities, and agree on a completion date based on your current workload. 
  6. if you’ve slipped behind schedule on a project, learn how to estimate time accurately so that you set realistic deadlines, and ensure that you’ve done everything that you sensibly can to get the project back on course.

How to Manage Conflicting Demands 

      7. Be Professional. It can be stressful to juggle people’s priorities and expectations. This stress can tempt to relieve the tension by snapping at others, ignoring deadlines, or feeling sorry for yourself. 

      8. Be Flexible Lastly, it’s important to be flexible: be prepared to put in extra work, if appropriate, to keep people satisfied. If people keep insisting that their project or task is more important than the one you need to work on, then you need to learn how to defend your priorities, ideally without damaging your relationship. 

Many of us have conflicting demands, where several people or teams are clamoring for our attention. It’s important to know how to manage these demands effectively so that everyone is happy. When you need to defend your priorities, show empathy, but be assertive in your approach.

Attending to both “Competing and Conflicting Demands”  

For organization members, attending to both “Competing and Conflicting Demands” simultaneously does not necessarily mean engaging both demands to their full strength or with equal vigor or situating them in a new relationship as a novel approach. 

There are subtle differences between conceptualizations of competing demands when they are addressed separately or engaged simultaneously.

Managers perceiving tensions between both “Competing and Conflicting Demands” may be torn between two poles of action when they attempt to attend to both demands at the same time. 

Attending to both “Competing and Conflicting Demands”  

The risk is that one side of the competing demands requires the most immediate attention.

Achieving both poles simultaneously is the managerial ideal promised by deceptive designs that enable organizations to accommodate competing demands to gain higher performance, despite the ideal being difficult to achieve, costly to maintain, and unstable in action.  

The effects of competing poles have been conceptualized as dilemmas, trade-offs, dualities, dialectics, and paradoxes, to mention only a few of the treatments of the theme.  

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Tag:     Health & Safety

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