Interpersonal conflicts at work can be uncomfortable for everyone in the office, not just those directly involved. When left to fester, these conflicts can harm the quality of work and the company atmosphere. But resolving employee conflicts isn’t always straightforward.
With the right guidelines, human resource professionals and managers can navigate this potential minefield successfully and handle conflicts as they occur.
How Employee Conflicts Affect Everyone
An unresolved employee conflict ends up hurting more than just the two disagreeing parties: It can harm productivity and morale, especially if other employees feel like they have to walk on eggshells to avoid fanning the flames.
Employees might be worried about the ramifications of taking sides or about being pulled into the middle of the dispute. And the larger the conflict grows, the harder it is for staffers to stay out of it. Employee conflict can even increase turnover and absenteeism.
Resolving Conflicts Among Peers
Determining when it’s the right time to step in is key when resolving conflicts between peers. Sometimes it’s good to just let employees resolve minor conflicts themselves. But if the same problem recurs or if it starts disrupting productivity, it’s time for HR or management to step in.
Managers should meet with all the employees involved and let each summarize their issue without interruption. Ask each party to share three or four actions they’d like to see the other take to resolve the conflict. Then ask the employees which of those actions they’re comfortable taking. Ask them to commit to changing and treating each other with respect. Set a date for a follow-up meeting to ensure these goals are achieved and the conflict is resolved.
Remember: Some interpersonal conflicts just can’t be resolved. In those times, consider moving an employee to a different department for the sake of harmony. For example, employees might disagree so much on how to approach projects that they always miss deadlines. Or two employees might constantly complain about each other and form separate cliques, with people taking sides. It might be best to move one of the employees in those situations.
Resolving Interpersonal Challenges With Managers
Challenges between managers and employees can be tough to resolve. Managers should also be trained to resolve conflicts in which they’re involved. This includes actively listening (and not forming a defensive response), learning empathy and focusing on the behavior of the employee. Warning signs of unresolved conflict include missing deadlines, withdrawing from colleagues and meetings, angry outbursts and overreactions, or taking an unusual number of sick days.
Sometimes it can be helpful to let HR professionals resolve these conflicts so everyone feels like their needs are being addressed. In doing so, HR professionals should consider if the managers or employees are violating company policy. For example, if a company’s policy emphasizes self-sufficiency, then a manager who’s micromanaging might be at fault.
Make sure employees don’t feel like HR professionals are always favoring the managers.
Addressing Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Concerns
Any conflicts that involve potentially illegal actions like sexual harassment, hostile work environments, bullying or discrimination need to be addressed immediately. In those cases, you should loop in the company attorney to make sure that everything is being addressed by the book. Always keep detailed notes about all complaints and meetings.
If a sexual harassment complaint is made, the individual should have the option of filing it a formal complaint that includes an investigation. The accused should also be told that a complaint was filed and that retaliation won’t be tolerated. Witnesses will need to be interviewed and discipline (if appropriate) issued.
Resolving employee conflicts is necessary for keeping workplaces an enjoyable and safe atmosphere for everyone. So take time to check in with your employees, either through one-on-ones or casual conversations. By staying in the loop, you can better identify and spot employee conflicts far out so they don’t become a bigger issue down the line.
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