What to do when employees don’t get along

Employee conflicts unfortunately aren’t uncommon; 85 percent of workers at all levels experience them to some degree, according to a study from CPP.

The resulting cost can be significant. An Accountemps survey found CFOs spend, on average, 15 percent of their time, approximately six hours a week, managing staff conflicts.

CPP’s research pegged the cost of employee conflicts at as much as $359 billion in paid hours — the equivalent of 385 million working days.

A separate study conducted by the Haskayne School of Business and London School of Economics and Political Science found regularly experiencing incivility in the workplace from the same person can also negatively affect employees’ mental well-being and physical health.

Although office conflicts can, over time, have a sizeable effect on both workers and their environment, according to at least one study, they often stem from relatively minor disagreements.

Theoretically, those disputes shouldn’t automatically escalate into becoming a big issue.

If your organization is currently experiencing, but isn’t sure how to handle employee conflict in the workplace, the following suggestions may help you reduce its impact:

Encourage lower anxiety levels

Stress is the second top cause of workplace conflict, according to CPP. Conversely, in a ComPsych survey, 31 percent of employees cited people issues as a cause of stress.

Surveying employee sentiment to determine if workers are anxious and re-examining the company culture and overall employee experience your organization offers may help you determine if any initiatives need to be instituted to help employees reduce anxiety.

Don’t let disagreements fester

12 percent of employees believe an accumulation of previous tensions contributed to their workplace aggression — which suggests employers could potentially pre-empt issues from evolving by mitigating conflict early on when it becomes clear certain employees don’t get along.

A number of managers, however, don’t seem to take that approach. A Marlin Company poll conducted by Harris Interactive found 27 percent of employees didn’t feel management is sufficiently helpful in resolving the needs, conflicts or other problems that are stressful for workers.

Help supervisors learn how to deal with office conflict

Training, according to CPP’s findings, is the biggest driver for conflict to result in high-quality outcomes. Yet less than half (44 percent) of its survey participants said they’d received any in how to manage workplace conflict; and only a third of managers (31 percent) think they handle disagreements well.

Clearly documenting — and distributing — policies may also help your organization avoid future disputes.

Office temperature, for example, was found to be a source of conflict between employees in a 2015 CareerBuilder survey. Identifying who officially can control the office thermostat can help prevent employee debates over who has the right to adjust it.

For additional tips on proactively avoiding and managing conflict in the workplace, check out our blog posts on smoothing over office conflict when employees don’t get along, the 3 things your employee engagement program needs and the compelling reason why you should support company social events.