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3 Management Mistakes That Can Fan the Flames of Workplace Discontent


What is the mood like at work? Are employees productive or spending an inordinate amount of time gossiping or finger-pointing? Do you see conflict rearing its ugly head and don’t know how it happened or how to get a handle on it?

Ignoring the situation isn’t going to make it go away. And, before you start making assumptions, get the lowdown on what might be causing this unrest. Three things that managers do – or don’t do – may be at the heart of your workplace conflict.

1. Lack of trust – This can be distrust from either side: managers who assume the worst in people, or don’t trust them do their jobs; or employees who don’t trust their bosses because they see them cut corners or engage in unprofessional or unethical behavior. Trust is the cornerstone for all relationships. An absence of trust can quickly lead to shaky relationships.

2. Poor communication – There are a lot of ways communication can go awry: too little information, intimidation, snide comments, leaving out essential details, lack of engagement, hiding behind closed doors, unclear directives, and inaccurate guidance.

3. Unlawful behavior – This will have greater ramifications than just workplace conflict. Showing favoritism for one individual or group or employees over another could lead to legal troubles.

What fuels a negative environment?


  • Not addressing conflict between teammates in a timely or appropriate manner. Ignoring the situation or pushing it back to the employees to solve themselves can make things worse, especially when this approach has already been unsuccessful.
  • Not managing employee performance and allowing poor performers’ behavior to remain unchecked. This burdens the rest of the team with having to carry the load.
  • Playing favorites or being inconsistent in how you treat employees – with rewards, consequences or anything that sets someone apart.
  • Participating in gossip (especially with direct reports).
  • Not taking ownership of errors or mistakes.
  • Looking out for yourself instead of your employees.

How it affects employees

Tense working relationships may slow down productivity and quality of work, create rifts among the team and may lead to employee resignations.

If there is a lack of trust, employees may feel micromanaged and begin to resent input from their managers. If they don’t trust their managers, it often results in disrespect and an unwillingness to respond to them. This leads to low morale and a lot of grumbling.

If communication is lacking and directives are unclear or inaccurate, productivity will suffer, resulting in a work slowdown.

And then, there’s the turnover factor. Workers who feel they aren’t respected, being treated fairly or getting the support they need to work effectively will often find other jobs, taking their skill set with them. This leaves the company looking for replacements, incurring the cost of hiring and training new employees. The workers who remain – “the survivors” – are left to fill the gaps, stirring the pot of conflict even more.

How to turn things around


  • Recognize your own areas of strength and weakness.
  • Listen and think things through before acting or reacting.
  • Understand not only your own role as a leader, but that of your direct reports and how they fit into the company’s big picture.
  • Take time to understand the skill set, experience and motivators for each team member.
  • Exhibit professional and ethical behavior. Own up to mistakes and apologize for them.
  • Display vulnerability. Acknowledge that management doesn’t have all the answers all of the time.
  • Provide a safe environment to discuss issues.
  • Walk around, talk to people and be in tune with what’s going on to determine when something is on the verge of going awry.

An ounce of prevention…

Managers should receive training to help them navigate the rocky waters of personnel management. This can include conflict management, employee counseling and general leadership training. In addition, finding a coach or mentor to provide more personal attention can be helpful to managers who are struggling or who want to get better at building and leading teams.

Having an outsourced HR department can help businesses deal with these kinds of issues by providing training resources and guidance. Find out how Insperity can provide training for your management team through its Workforce Optimization® full-service HR solution.