When employee conflicts arise, it's important to act proactively, says Sheryl Kovach, president and CEO of Kandor Group, a human resources consulting firm in Houston. Employee conflicts often stem from miscommunication, and if a conflict is allowed to stew for too long, it could cause resentment and frustration, leading to a loss of productivity.
Proactively managing employee conflicts all starts with having an open-door policy, Kovach says. This encourages transparency and helps ensure employees understand what it expected of them, which is often an underlying cause of employee conflicts. Employee conflict can also arise when employees are fearful to address issues with management. An open-door policy, however, helps employees feel comfortable enough to address these issues before they become long-term problems.
“It’s simply a matter of communicating expectations,” Kovach says. “Without that communication, there is likely going to be continued conflict. Employees can also use that same approach when they interact with their peers, which reduces the likelihood of any problems.”
While an open-door policy can prevent many conflicts, issues can still arise, and it’s important for the manager to get involved immediately, Kovach says. Again, communication is critical to solving any conflict as a simple conversation can go a long way in mending the situation, but it is something that is often avoided. Many managers feel uncomfortable handling these conflicts because they aren’t always appropriately trained; however, this is a major mistake that could make the situation worse.
“The longer a manager avoids the situation, the more those employees are going to be focused on the wrong thing and not get their work done,” Kovach says. “There is more opportunity for resentment to start brewing between the employees and resentment toward the manager who is not doing anything to solve the problem.”
If the conflict still exists after the manager intervenes, it’s time to involve human resources, Kovach says. Sometimes an employee may have trouble moving past the issue, but HR’s involvement can often lead to corrective action.
Having an open-door policy is especially important when the conflict is between an employee and a manager, Kovach says. While the employee could directly talk to the manager about the issue, many people do not feel comfortable doing so. Instead, the employee should be aware that there are multiple avenues to discuss the problem. Other avenues can include the manager’s supervisor or HR, and these sources should remain objective when the employee is discussing the conflict.
“It’s important to listen to what the employee is saying,” Kovach says. “At the same time, you don’t want to agree with what they’re saying. You just need to thank the employee for bringing the issue to your attention and follow up with the employee should any remedial measures need to be taken.”
With simple communication, many potential problems can be avoided. Productivity doesn’t have to take a hit, and employees are more likely to be engaged and retained.