For 72% of employees, respectful treatment is the top factor that determines job satisfaction. For business leaders, having a clear plan for resolving employee conflicts is essential to maintaining a healthy level of respect across the organization. But resolving employee conflict means addressing more than just the big incidents that make headlines. Workplace conflicts range in severity, but all instances require some form of attention. Here are seven things to keep in mind when addressing them.
Employee conflicts require immediate attention. Ignoring them means they fester, making them harder to address later on. People forget the dates of what happened, and their view of the details gets blurry as time passes. Beginning quickly is important to avoid further issues, but rapid action can only happen if an employee resolution strategy is already in place. Further, once the process begins it cannot be rushed. It takes time to uncover details, fully understand the conflict, and work toward an amicable solution for all.
When addressing an employee conflict, it’s necessary to pinpoint the actual problem instead of only alleviating a symptom to avoid the issue resurfacing in the future. If two employees are arguing about who made a mess in the break room, it can be easy to call maintenance for a cleanup and assume the conflict is over. However, properly trained managers know to dig deeper by asking each employee about their feelings separately in order to uncover a possible underlying and larger problem.
As an employer, it’s necessary to limit any amount of business liability or risk. When it comes to employee conflicts, you must document interactions in detail. Should it become a legal issue, or even if an employee is suspected of an unrelated crime and their work history is requested, having documentation goes a long way to ensuring compliance. Likewise, documentation is important for HR and future managers of that employee. Without it, warning signs are missed and a pattern of behavior goes unchecked.
Sometimes a manager is perceived as having favorite employees. Perhaps they have a personal connection to an employee such as their kids playing on the same soccer team or sharing the same gym. Even if they don’t actually favor one employee over another, these outside factors can cause employees involved in a conflict to lose trust in the resolution process and undermine even the best efforts. If the direct supervisor of two employees isn’t viewed as impartial, someone else must be in charge of the resolution whether they are another manager or an expert outside of the organization.
When an employee has a conflict with their employer and not another employee it requires a different approach since a manager may seem partial to the company or to one of their managerial peers. Distrust breeds more quickly in this scenario as an employee may inaccurately assume that all management (and even HR) is conspiring against them. Especially at a time when workplace harassment is a major concern, it may be necessary to engage an outside party for a safe and clearly impartial resolution.
Employee conflicts are delicate situations where emotions can run high. That’s why it’s essential to make employees as comfortable and calm as possible. Keeping the conflict close to employees by not involving unnecessary people means employees feel less pressure and can be more open. After all, if they get called into the HR director’s office and have never even met them before, it can be daunting. Talk to employees in a private but familiar environment, like their office or an uncrowded picnic table outside, or ask them to go home early and write out their thoughts in an email.
Finally, it’s imperative to know when to seek outside assistance. If the conflict in question is a crime, alert local authorities or law enforcement without delay. Of course, most cases of employee conflict are not so severe yet are still difficult to resolve appropriately. Bringing in an expert versed in conflict resolution and training provides the skills needed and a strong level of comfort to employees. Plus, when a typical manager spends 25-40% of their time on workplace conflicts, a third party can save a significant amount of time.