Blame it on personality, lifestyle or other factors, but there are times when a couple of employees just don’t mesh well together. Friction in the ranks can make your office feel like a war zone.
The tension can make the workplace uncomfortable for other employees and have a dramatic effect on productivity. As a manager, you can’t afford to take the see-no-evil-hear-no-evil approach. We’ve put together some tips to help you tactfully put out the fire between feuding employees.
Step 1. Encourage employees to work it out.
Remember you’re their manager, not their mother. Use your judgment when it comes to addressing employee complaints. Managers should want their employees to be as self-sufficient as possible, says Dawn Passaro, HR marketing researcher for HRMarketer.com.“Encourage your employees to manage their issues on their own,” Passaro says.
By reacting to every whine from a worker you may actually make the situation worse by feeding into the drama. This might be perceived as favoritism and turn other employees against you.
Step 2. Nip it in the bud quickly.
Unfortunately, some situations won’t work themselves out and you’ll be forced to step in. Like a bad sore, if ignored too long, employee disputes can fester and infect the entire workplace and ultimately taint the reputation of your company. Passaro says workplace disputes that aren’t addressed eventually end up sucking other employees into the drama. This “employee sideshow” can further derail productivity. Get to the root of the problem and stop the landslide before it starts.
Step 3. Listen to both sides.
By the time you get involved, your office may already be buzzing with gossip. Don’t assume you know the situation based on the whispers you’ve heard around the office. Passaro says you need to first deal with the two individuals or group of people who are directly involved in the incident and worry about refocusing other staff members later. Sit the feuding employees down and ask each to explain their side of the story.
Some experts recommend this be done individually, while others believe you should discuss the problem with both at the same time. It might depend on the degree of hostility between them. You’ll want to create an environment where you can discuss facts, not emotions. Be as objective as possible.“You never, ever want to take sides,” says Passaro. This will only fan the flames and make matters worse.
Step 4. Identify the real issue.
Often the cause of an argument between a group of employees can get clouded by the all the emotions that surround it.“Try to get each employee to articulate [the issue] in a calm way,” says Passaro. “Ask them what they want to see as an outcome.”
Like a doctor, treating the symptoms only puts a Band-Aid over the issue. To avoid future flare ups, you need get to the source. Only then, will you be able to come up with a permanent solution. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this or you don’t think you can be impartial, you may want to consider hiring a third-party mediator to handle the situation.
Step 5. Consult your employee handbook.
Deciphering right from wrong may mean reviewing your company’s policy. Employee handbooks are designed to lay down consistent rules that each employee is expected to uphold at all times. In order to offer a fair resolution, you’ll need to make sure your decision is aligned with company policy. No employee should be above the laws set forth in the workplace. Letting an employee slide when they’ve clearly gone against the rules will weaken your authority and cause resentment in the ranks.
Step 6. Find a solution.
According to Passaro, employers need to get employees focused on the job at hand.“Employees don’t have to be best friends. They don’t even have to be friends; they just need to get the job done,” she says. That might require reorganizing teams or giving the employees time to “cool off” before they work together again. And remember you have a business to run. If the conflicts continue, they could seriously affect productivity and you may need to reevaluate your staff. One antagonistic employee can wreak havoc on the rest.
Step 7. Write it up.
Employees may not like it, but it’s important that you document all workplace incidents. Passaro says this will help you monitor behavior over time and keep an eye out for repeat offenders that may be polluting your office. Documenting incidents can also protect your business should a disgruntled employee try to take you to court. Always write down details from each run-in an employee has had. Take note of the steps you took to try and resolve the issue. Also write down your solution and the reasoning behind it.
Step 8. Teach them how to talk.
For some troubled employees, talking out a situation isn’t enough.“Typically, people who have these problems have communication issues already,” says Passaro.If you’re experiencing a lot of strife among your staff, you may want to provide communication and problem solving training. These courses teach employees how to effectively articulate their thoughts and emotions in a nonthreatening way. The techniques they learn will help them diffuse conflicts before they blow up.
Step 9. Lead by example.
Much of your company culture is based on how everyone interacts with one another. Passaro says a culture of respectful communication is a “top down” proposition.“
Business owners, directors, managers and other supervisors set the tone for interaction in the workplace,” she says.
By speaking to your employees in an honest and respectful manner, you create an environment that values integrity and communication. When you are open and honest, employees are more likely to do the same.