Find out to handle often uncomfortable, unexpected office situations.

Conflict, according to Fortune, is essentially unavoidable in the workplace because all organizations have a division of labor, where groups establish their own goals and priorities; interdependence (the need to work together, despite different objectives) and resources that are rarely unlimited.

With those three elements in place, it’s unlikely that all factions will agree on all decisions and plans all the time.

In some cases, conflict may involve fairly common matters an HR department has dealt with before, such as concern over a performance review or failure to comply with company rules.

However, HR work doesn’t always involve cut-and-dry matters that are clearly defined in the employee handbook.

Sometimes, delicate situations can arise — requiring an equally delicate touch.

For example:

  • Two employees start dating. Fifty-six percent of employees have been involved in an office romance, according to Vault’s 2013 Office Romance Survey. Coworker connections may not pose a problem, but if the couple in question is comprised of a supervisor and subordinate, issues may arise.
Potential solution: Implement an employee dating policy that clearly spells out prohibited conduct. View a sample version from the Society of Human Resource Management here.
  • Gossip is running rampant. When water cooler chatter turns ugly, creating a culture of confusion and apprehension, it’s time to step in and quell employee’s fears.
Potential solution: Consider taking a proactive approach to inform employees about the rationale behind promotions, lost clients and other rumor mill fodder. In its 2011 “How to Deal with Office Gossip” article, the News & Observer recommends encouraging managers to rely on key group members to keep them in the loop about staff concerns.
  • An employee approaches HR with a common courtesy complaint. Don’t automatically assume one coworker’s grievance is an isolated incident between two employees. The behavior one worker is exhibiting may be affecting more staff members and overall morale.
Potential solution: Try calming a frustrated coworker (or several coworkers) by calling a staff meeting to address general expectations, such as kitchen area cleanliness — which may, according to U.S. News & World Report, be more effective (and less uncomfortable) than singling out the person who’s consistently making a mess.

Some experts say extremely detailed, clearly communicated employee policies can help prevent almost any confusion involved with more nuanced workplace conflict issues, such as the ones listed above.

Other organizations, like Netflix, have taken a different approach. The entertainment rental and streaming service, according to former chief talent officer Patty McCord, felt many employee issues could be resolved before they even occur with stronger recruitment practices — which can, in turn, free up HR’s time.

“If you’re careful to hire people who will put the company’s interests first … 97 percent of your employees will do the right thing,” McCord wrote in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article. “Most companies spend endless time and money writing and enforcing HR policies to deal with problems the other 3% might cause.”

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