Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Arguments will happen. The fact is, we’re all human. We have emotions, personalities, opinions and they may not be the same as the person sitting in the operatory next to us, or the person sitting across the room. These are the things that make us unique. Those same things that make us unique can also be the same things that bring conflict to the workplace.
Prime Sources of Conflict
While there could be any number of reasons for employees to argue in the workplace, competition and emotional conflicts seem to be among the most prevalent. Competition could stem from the promise of a promotion, a bonus, or a raise going to the top performer. Some people just have a competitive spirit. Often times, competition comes with the threat of job security causing conflict amongst employees.
Many share the sentiment that emotions should be left at home and should not be brought into the workplace. That utopia would probably only exist if we were all robots. We ask our employees not to bring emotional baggage, but then also encourage a happy, healthy working environment. You’ll never have a workplace devoid of emotion. As a business owner, the best thing you can do is embrace the diversity of your employees and get to know them. Understanding what makes them tick can help you understand what might be causing conflict later on. Are they going through a divorce or a death in the family? Perhaps they’re under financial strain? Those frustrations can sometimes be taken out on the wrong person, for the wrong reason.
Listed as one of the top 10 employers by Forbes.com, Google understands the need for a healthy work life balance. They take into account that their employees are humans and offer services such as on-site daycare, flexible hours, free on-site meals, a free on-site gym, on-site medical staff, plus much, much more. Not all businesses can afford to provide those luxuries for their employees. And in some instances, it may not be feasible. However, ensuring some form of work life balance, can help to mitigate some of the daily frustrations employees face. Working with someone’s schedule so they can attend doctor’s appointments, for example, may be a way to ease the work life stress of an employee and thereby mitigate the potential for taking that stress out on their co-workers.
In some ways, adulthood is a lot like childhood. Disagreements with schoolmates and teachers give way to co-workers and supervisors. As a business owner, it may be tempting to get involved with and help to settle any disagreements between your employees. And who can blame you? Not only do you want your company running as smooth as possible, you also don’t want to have to leave your business open to lawsuits for not handling a situation appropriately. So, when is it okay to get involved? And when is it better to NOT get involved. Yes, you read that correctly. There will be times where getting involved in an argument occurring between your employees is not in your best interest.
When you Should Get Involved
First, note that you should never take a back seat when employee issues involve allegations of harassment and/or discrimination. In fact, you should always investigate any complaints which are officially brought to your attention by an employee. Failure to properly handle any reports of bullying or harassment in the workplace could result in a citation from EEOC or even leave your business vulnerable to a lawsuit.
Occasionally, “friendly disagreements” can take a turn for the worse, causing disruptive chaos. This causes a toxic work environment for not just those involved, but those around them as well. You also do not want conversations in the workplace to be construed as offensive to your other employees (i.e. obscenities, explicit, etc.). Having policies and procedures in place can help to lay out your expectations to your employees not to engage in inappropriate behavior. Should disciplinary action be needed in the future, those policies and procedures can help back your case that the employee had violated them.
When you Should Not Get Involved
It can be very tempting to get involved in issues between two employees. However, just like a schoolteacher, sometimes it is better to allow parties to work out their issues on their own, rather than micromanaging all problems. Take a step back and observe the situation before deciding whether to intervene.
You should consider staying out of it if, for example, you witness employees (lightly) teasing one another in the office. If the language does not arise to bullying, then it may just be a way for employees to break the ice with one another and can often be a sign of friendship. Or, if you overhear employees having light political banter, such as whether they thought a candidate’s speech the night before was enjoyable. Be careful, however, as you never want conversations to rise to the level of making anyone uncomfortable (and intervention may be required if the conversations are being witnessed by patients). Generally speaking, you do not want to get yourself into a position in which you are policing the everyday discussions between your staff members. Otherwise, you risk sounding as if you are playing favorites, and you will effectively be micro-managing your staff.
Taking into account the human factor may make dealing with conflict in the workplace a bit easier. Your employees will argue, but it’s your job to observe and determine whether you should intervene. Obvious violations of safety, policies and procedures governing such things as discrimination, harassment, etc., should be dealt with immediately. Friendly banter or debates should be left to work out on their own. You don’t want to give your employees the impression that you’re playing favorites by taking a side or micro-managing, adding a whole new stress to the equation.
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HR for Health is one of the nation’s leading Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS) used by small to mid-sized practices. HR for Health has provided the following complimentary articles to ensure you have a game plan when addressing complex HR matters.
Quick note: This is not to be taken as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance. Learn about HR for Health's HR services