We’re a family. Teamwork makes the dream work. There’s no “I” in “team”.
These common refrains are more than just slogans. They’re often used to express how employees are getting along as a unit. But what if your team is singing a much sadder song? What if, instead of feeling like a team, there’s a feeling of conflict and contempt?
Unresolved employee conflict can impact your business in many ways. Conflict in the workplace decreases productivity and morale. It also creates tension for the bystanders that aren’t involved in the conflict. Depending on the work environment, a conflict between employees can cause absenteeism and turnover. This happens because the conflict can cause low employee engagement as employees may seek to leave the organization. The conflict between employees can also lead to increased stress, burnout, and decreased job satisfaction. All of this is bad for your business and its goals.
What Causes Employee Conflict
One of the first steps to resolving the issue of employee conflict is the understand the different things that can cause it. Since employees are just human, the reasons can vary from one situation to another. However, there are some common causes that you should be on the lookout for. Here are just a few:
- Miscommunication– Miscommunication or misunderstandings is one of the most common causes of employee conflict. This may occur due to a lack of clear communication, different interpretations of information, or conflicting messages.
- Workload and responsibilities: Differences in workload and responsibilities can also be a source of conflict between employees. This is most common when one employee is not contributing to the work as much as the others.
- Competition and rivalry: Competition and rivalry can also cause conflicts between employees. This may occur when employees are competing for promotions, recognition, or resources.
- Differences in values and beliefs: Differences in values and beliefs can also lead to conflicts between employees. For example, employees may disagree on ethical issues, political views, or social values.
- Personal conflicts: Personal conflicts can also arise between employees. This may occur due to personal tensions, jealousy, or resentment. This also happens with romantic relationships developed at the workplace.
- Power struggles: Power struggles can also occur between employees, particularly when there is a difference in rank or authority.
- Negative attitudes or entitlements-Another common cause is the perpetuation of cynicism or negative attitude by an employee. This will often cause one employee to be at odds with many others who do not enjoy being around that employee.
To resolve conflicts and maintain a positive work environment, organizations need to address these sources of conflict promptly and effectively.
What can you do when some of your employees aren’t getting along? Here are five ways to manage when employees don’t get along with each other.
1. Determine the Exact Source of the Conflict
If two or more people on a team aren’t getting along, it may be tempting to completely ignore the problem. While it’s true that sometimes, employees will eventually work this out on their own, sometimes you must get involved. Find out why this problem exists. What is the source of the conflict?
Consider these factors as you try to find out the true root of the problem:
- How long has this conflict existed?
- If the conflict has gotten worse over time, what might have caused it to worsen?
- If the conflict is new, what might have created it?
- Who is involved in the conflict? Are there power differences that might be contributing to the conflict? (example: supervisor and subordinate)
When you’re trying to find out the source of the conflict, it’s important to remember that some workplace conflicts may not be just tense or uncomfortable to watch- they may be illegal. You must determine if you’re seeing harassment unfold in the workplace.
Harassment and discrimination in your business are illegal. If you suspect that this is happening, you’ll need to take swift action to make it stop.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has information available to help you determine if the conflict you’re observing is harassment or discrimination. Business owners can be liable for these events, so taking action as soon as you become aware of this illegal activity is essential.
2. Listen to Each Side of the Conflict
Each person involved in the conflict probably has their version of events. It’s important to hear each version, and document what each party is telling you. The more questions you ask, the more information you can gather. You’ll also want to:
Meet with each employee separately so each person can speak freely. During these meetings, listen to each side objectively. Try not to use language that makes any employee feel as though you are blaming them for the conflict.
Ask questions that will help you determine the facts. Attempt to stick to only the most relevant questions to get an accurate picture of the situation. One question may be to as each person what they thought created this problem. You may also want to ask them what they think would resolve this problem.
After you meet with each person, keep the information you documented in your employee records. Ensure the information is kept in a safe, secure location.
3. Wait to See if The Employees Can Work Things Out
If the situation is not one of harassment or discrimination, you may want to wait to see if the employees can work things out on their own.
After having the chance to be heard, each person might feel better about the situation. One – or both – parties may realize that their behavior needs to change, or they may have figured out on their own a way to deal with the person they’re experiencing a conflict with.
Another possibility is that both parties – if equally at fault – will come to a silent agreement that, although they still don’t like each other – they will be cordial and professional in the workplace.
4. Try to Deescalate the Situation
During each meeting with the employees, they may have offered you their ideas as to how the situation could be resolved. Consider if these ideas are actual possibilities. For example, the employees might be having a petty personality conflict, and they may have offered the solution of sitting farther away from each other. Think about whether or not you want to give them the ultimatum of working things out or if you want to give them the option of moving seats.
Deescalating could also mean having a conversation with both employees. If they’re equally at fault this is to let them know that they need to get their act together. When adults in the workplace continue to bicker over petty matters, you may need to let them know that things need to change. Or, that a plan leading up to termination could follow.
5. Take Any Corrective Actions if Necessary
Taking corrective actions may also be necessary. During the meeting, you may have asked each employee what they believed the source of the conflict was. Perhaps an employee said that they believed the workload is being distributed unfairly, and that some workers are being given more work while others are given less. Suspected favoritism can be a source of conflict. Another source of conflict might be gossip. This is certainly a factor that can lead to a toxic work environment.
During the process of conflict resolution, you may have uncovered information you didn’t expect. Perhaps there is an issue you weren’t aware of in the company culture, leadership, management, or workload. Don’t be afraid to make changes that will create a more positive environment.
If you need to terminate an employee, be sure to keep accurate records. It may not be a pleasant process, but it’s sometimes necessary to fire an employee when their unprofessional conduct has risen to an unacceptable level.
6. Get Outside Help If the Situation Calls for It
Sometimes, there are situations that you may not be able to handle on your own. If the conflict between employees can lead to legal issues, you may need outside help. It has been recommended that a small business should look to bring in at least one Human Resource specialist if they have 10 or more employees.
An HR specialist can help with many issues involving your team when it comes to compliance. Beyond this, if the situation is severe enough, you can also hire an independent investigator or legal counsel to make sure the situation is handled correctly.
Conflict resolution isn’t a pleasant task. When employees can’t get along, morale and productivity suffer. Keeping all of your employees happy and having everyone get along all the time may not be possible. Conflicts are bound to arise. However, meeting with employees and listening to their perspectives can help you make an action plan. Tough conversations often follow when employees need to be reminded of what appropriate behavior in the workplace looks like.