Managing Conflicts in the Workplace
Most of us spend as much, if not more, time with our colleagues than our families. Naturally, this can result in conflicts among employees and between employees and management. Issues such as bullying, insults, noncooperation, and anger can affect everyone, not just the affected employees. Moreover, conflicts often lead to a rise in emotional stress, absenteeism, and employee turnover. A related issue that has come up in the labor and employment arena involves the conflicting rights of employees. For example, if one employee’s service dog causes severe allergies to another employee, or if an employee’s right to free speech creates a hostile work environment for another employee.
Keep it Informal
Human Resources professionals advise that the best practice is to first allow employees to resolve the conflicts themselves, especially if they are in relatively similar positions within the organization. Although management may be needed to facilitate the discussion between conflicting parties, the initial step toward resolving the problem should rest with the individuals. This encourages each employee to take responsibility for their action and its consequences, and keeps management out of everyday issues. However, if the employees are unable to solve the issues or if the conflict is between an employee and their supervisor, the employer can and should get involved, first on an informal basis and, if necessary, through a more formal process involving HR professionals. In either case, companies should not ignore conflicts and, once involved, deal with them promptly and equitably.
Take Proactive Measures
Often the company may be the reason conflicts are arising. Management should be alert to issues that are similar in nature but involve different employees. Companies can help reduce the risk of conflicts arising by following some common sense guidelines:
- Provide clear and consistent policies that are implemented transparently throughout the organization.
- Provide clear job duties that don’t overlap.
- Provide an organizational structure that describes supervisory roles.
- Provide guidance and communication at all times but especially during periods of organizational change such as a merger, acquisition, or layoffs.
- Give all employees the resources needed to do their jobs.
- Recognize and resolve smaller issues before they escalate.
Policies and Procedures
Having an internal company policy on conflict resolution can be very helpful to all parties. It can offer a clear process that both the employees and management can rely on as soon as a situation arises.
The policy should set forth an informal process in which the employer or its agent confers with both parties and sets out the expectations for all parties. The procedure should allow the employer to educate employees about the situation, explain the scope of the rights of each employee, and help the parties reach a resolution that respects both parties’ right as much as possible. In the event the conflict cannot be resolved by informal process, the employer should also outline a formal process in the policy that allows the employer to meet its obligations to resolve the issue.
The policy should set out clear expectations such as respect for all persons involved and consideration for other perspectives, cultures, and upbringing.
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Developing a policy and approach to addressing these issues can help an employer avoid conflicts altogether or resolve them quickly.
• Develop an internal company policy.
• Train management on common situations that are likely to arise.
• Implement a procedure for resolution through an informal process.
• Have a procedure for resolution through a formal process.
• Ensure that the employer is not contributing to the conflict.
• Be aware of the legal rights of each employee before addressing conflicts.
Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of KPPB Law (www.kppblaw.com).
Sonjui L. Kumar is a founding partner of KPPB Law, practicing in the area of corporate law and governance. Jesse C. Moore is a law clerk at KPPB Law.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.
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