Managing employee conflict: top tips

Here are our top tips on managing conflict successfully in the workplace:

Conflict between employees is unproductive, disruptive for the workforce and, if managed badly, can result in an Employment Tribunal claim. Conflict can take many forms including lack of trust between employees and the management team or a dispute between two employees.

Here are our top tips on managing conflict successfully in the workplace:

  • Difficult conversations: Train managers to handle difficult conversations. This will allow them to have confidence in their decisions, deal fairly with competing views and interests, and communicate clearly, which should in turn result in confidence from employees.
  • Clear procedures: Ensure that there is clear grievance, disciplinary and dispute resolution procedures in place to deal with conflict.
  • Promote differences: It is important to adopt a positive culture towards differing opinions, lifestyles and attitudes. This will help to instil in employees that discriminatory behaviour is not acceptable and that all should be treated equally. Make clear that discriminatory behaviour will be regarded as a disciplinary offence. This may serve to head off conflict before it arises, by encouraging employees to self-monitor their behaviour.
  • Formal v informal: Not everything needs to go down a formal route. Sometimes all employees need to do is have a quiet chat to air their concerns. Identify what the appropriate course of action is, always direct the employee to appropriate support if they do have ongoing concerns, and let them know where they can find the grievance process.
  • Listen: Sounds simple, but sometimes we are all guilty of generalising or jumping to conclusions. If issues aren’t fully understood and addressed then you will probably have to go through the same process again and will have a disgruntled employee to deal with. Let the employee speak and listen to them until they have expressed everything they want to say. At the end of the conversation, rephrase what was said to ensure you understand the issues.
  • Impartiality: Ideally, ensure the manager appointed to deal with any conflict has had no involvement in the issue previously.
  • Equal treatment:  Where there is a conflict between two employees ensure equal treatment is afforded to both wherever possible. However take care where making significant changes for a complainant as there is a risk of an assertion of victimisation or less favourable treatment for making a public interest disclosure if someone believes they have been treated adversely for raising an issue.
  • Document: Make sure there is clear documentation in the employee’s personnel file, even if you spoke about something informally. This will assist if there is a change in management or there are any issues in the future. It will allow you to revert easily to what was discussed previously and to keep track of progress.
  • Follow up: Once an issue appears resolved, do consider having regular follow-up meetings to ensure all remains well. This will assist in identifying any ongoing issues and hopefully ensure that employees feel supported and confident at work.

Zakia Bibi (zakia.bibi@weightmans.com) is a member of the Birmingham Employment, Pensions and Immigration team. If you have any questions, or would like to discuss the training available to equip your staff to manage conflict or deal with difficult conversations, please do not hesitate to contract Zakia or speak to your usual Weightmans advisor.

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