July 14, 2023
I have two employees with an ongoing conflict that is starting to affect the rest of my staff. It started with an argument over different methods of doing things, and grew from there. Now they won’t even speak to each other when they are on the same shift. Both have spread rumours about the other to their coworkers. I’ve tried talking to them separately and together (once!) when it first started, but nothing has worked.
They are great at their jobs and with everyone except each other. It has created tension with other staff, and I have overheard some saying they were looking for other jobs because of this. I would hate to lose these two employees, but I’m worried I could lose even more staff if I don’t get this dealt with. Am I better off without them? What can I do?
Workplace dynamics and employee relations can be very challenging issues, but there are a few different ways to address this. Following are some suggestions you might consider. Keep in mind that your best approach depends on your judgement of your own time limits and training, and the willingness of the employees to engage in constructive problem-solving.
- Direct conflict resolution is usually the first step to disputes between individual employees. If you are able to guide it, a facilitated conflict resolution session might help – if they are arguing over different perspectives, see if there is a point of common ground to work on. You’ll need to ensure that the focus is on work issues only, listen objectively and empathically, but be assertive in guiding the discussion. They may be able to reach a consensus on the nature of the issue.
- Inappropriate workplace behaviors should be addressed directly in accordance with a written Code of Conduct for all employees. Now would be the time to reference it (if you have one), when meeting with these employees. Behavior that goes against this type of policy can be addressed through progressive disciplinary action if needed, after providing verbal direction. If you don’t have this type of policy, consider developing it as it helps provide a guideline to all staff.
- Bullying or Harassing behaviors should not be tolerated, as these pose a legal and financial risk for the employer, as well as contributing to a toxic work environment. Spreading malicious rumours could be considered Bullying or Harassment, so you will want to address this issue as proactively as possible. If you do not have an in-house workplace Violence Prevention or Bullying and Harassment policy, you can find all you need to know regarding the regulations under WorksafeBC here: https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/hazards-exposures/bullying-harassment
- Some scheduling changes may help in ‘cooling down’ the situation. Separating the staff in conflict can help mitigate the tension this creates for other staff, but you will need to ensure you make it clear to the two employees that they must follow expected workplace behavior guidelines and not engage in bullying or harassing behaviors.
- Be proactive in retaining your other staff, and encourage them to connect with you if they have concerns or questions. In the current labour market, retention of all employees will be your best approach to ensuring smooth operation of your workplace. Keeping an ‘open door’ practice, while respecting individual confidentiality, may help you ensure that the impact on your workforce as a whole is minimized.
Staff conflict is impacting everyone; every scenario is different but it can be resolved through discussions, conflict resolution, applying policies, and disciplinary action as a last resort.
Does this situation sound familiar? For tailored recommendations or policy development support, contact Sarah Best at firstname.lastname@example.org
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