Paper Trails

What do I do if my employees don’t get along?

Business owners and HR managers deal with multiple issues each and everyday.  This incudes both business related issues as well as employee related issues.  One headache that could arise in any business is a conflict between employees.  Sometimes, an employee may not get along with another employee for a variety of reasons.  Let’s take a look at some tips for handling a situation where your employees don’t get along.

Reasons conflicts could arise between employees

First, let’s look at the common underlying causes that can result in conflict between employees. Understanding how these conflicts can arise will help you determine which strategies may be most useful moving forward.

  1. Miscommunication: Often a conflict between people is more perceived than real—a result of a misunderstanding or miscommunication. What is said may be unclear, or the statement is taken the wrong way. Offense or frustration is caused not because of a real disagreement, but because of a perception.
  2. Incompatible positions or priorities: Conflicts often arise because two or more individuals can’t all get what they want. Their ideas about what to do or how to do it can’t all be done together. Maybe a deadline that one person requires can’t be met without someone else having to rearrange their priorities, and maybe those priorities can’t easily be rearranged.
  3. Emotional manipulation: Some people try to get what they want by manipulating the emotions of others. A regularly tardy employee might have a go-to sob story about their situation, which they use to garner sympathy. But once emotional manipulation is revealed for what it is, it breeds distrust, and people who distrust one another can’t work well together.
  4. Internal competition: Competition can be healthy and good within an organization, but it can also incentivize people to play dirty, undermining or sabotaging the efforts of others. Like emotional manipulation, competition can create distrust. People stop collaborating, communicating, and sharing their work.
  5. Poor performance: In some cases, issues develop between people in the workplace because an individual or a team isn’t getting their job done or doing it well. One person’s poor performance can lead to a chain reaction that eventually topples the whole operation. Distrust, resentment, anger, and other negative emotions are the result, and these feelings most certainly find expression—to friends at work in the form of gossip and often the offending party as a public scolding.

What to do if your employees don’t get along?

There are several ways to improve the working relationship between employees who don’t get along.  These include:

  1. Investigating the cause or causes of the conflict rather than jumping to conclusions about what is happening. Be sure to speak to the employees involved and try to understand the tension between them.  The conflict could be a result of a personality clash, a misunderstanding, or a difference in working style. Once you understand the cause, you can work to address it and find a solution.
  2. Encouraging the employees to communicate openly with each other.  Managers may need to facilitate a conversation to help them understand what open communication is like. If your employees are struggling to communicate openly, they may benefit from training in effective communication, including active listening and conflict resolution.
  3. Setting clear expectations for behavior and performance is important. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Create a shared vision for the team and encourage everyone to work towards that common goal. Tell your employees that they don’t need to be friends, but they do need to be able to work together and should be professional in the workplace.
  4. Leading by example. Model open communication and positive conflict resolution with your teams and peers.
  5. Following up to ensure that the solution is working and that your expectations are being met.
  6. If one or more of your employees continues to not meet your behavioral and performance expectations, it would be appropriate to discipline them, up to and including termination.  Whatever your method of discipline, be sure to document your conversations and actions.  Documentation will be key in protecting your business against potential legal action.

Resources for businesses

Below are some resources that your business can use when conflict arises.

Record of Employee Conversation

Disciplinary Action Notice

Compliant/Concern Intake Form

Performance Improvement Plan