Handling disputes and conflicts in the workplace

Alan Price – CEO at BrightHR

May 24 2016

In an ideal world, everyone would get along at all times – but let’s face it, the world is far from ideal! When it comes to the workplace, people of all types and characters are put into close proximity, so it would be unrealistic to expect everyone to friends. But as an employer, how should you manage any unease between staff? Of course all employers want their staff to get on so that day-to-day activities run smoothly – after all, a workforce with no disputes is the ideal environment to promote productivity and increased performance. However, conflicts are unfortunately inevitable and in reality happen often, because employees, no matter how perfect they are for their role, may have issues and disagreements with one another. In order to ensure workforce morale is restored, it’s important for you to step in and guide the employees involved towards a resolution of their differences. Acknowledgement The first step when you become aware that some of your staff are involved in a conflict or a dispute is to acknowledge it. If the problem has arisen outside of the workplace, it can be tempting to ignore it and hope that they’ll sort it out between themselves – but if they don’t, tensions may rise and the initial issue may evolve into a much bigger problem, even impacting on and drawing in other members of staff. As soon as you learn of the dispute, you should invite each person involved to an initial informal chat to find out more about the problem. If both employees state that they’d like to resolve the problem, you should invite them to take part in a mediation process. Mediation Mediation can be a great tool for helping staff to restore their working relationships, but as a voluntary process, all participating parties have to voluntarily agree to take part. Mediation is best carried out by an independent third party who’s not involved in the business – this can help the employee involved to open up and have more confidence that it’s an impartial process. Some employers may have an allocated workplace mediator, such as a manager, to lead this procedure, but some may choose to bring an external mediator. Following policies Sometimes you may become aware of a conflict because an employee has brought a grievance or harassment complaint against a colleague. If this happens, it’s important that you always follow the relevant grievance or harassment procedure and investigate the allegations. That said, you should still suggest mediation as a way to try and solve the dispute, as sometimes, for example, actions may be perceived as bullying but the alleged perpetrator may not have had that intention at all. To prepare for any future conflicts you should train managers on how to deal with similar situations, and encourage and improve communication between employees and managers – this will help you to identify any problems that surface during the initial stages, before they’ve had time to escalate into a major conflict.

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