We’re sure you already know this, but it bears repeating: it’s important that your employees get along. During the working week we spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our loved ones, so achieving a harmonious workplace is essential to our wellbeing.
And nothing creates a negative work atmosphere like co-worker conflict; bickering, back-stabbing and bad-mouthing are all possibilities when the workplace is less than harmonious. So what can you do when two or more of your employees don’t work well together or, even worse, actually seem to hate each other?
Conflict between co-workers is always an issue. No one can say that they get on with everyone; personalities clash, ideals differ and methods don’t always marry up.
Working together well in a team is essential to achieving success. But that’s not to say there isn’t conflict within teams: the best teams simply know how to deal with these problems as and when they occur.
Conflict can be caused by many different things, from clashing personality types to office set-up and unfair bonus schemes. What follows are a few issues that might be causing conflict between employees and within teams in your company.
Everyone is different. Most of the time, this is a good thing: brainstorming with different personalities leads to the generation of a whole spectrum of ideas that one kind of person would never have considered. It can result in the development of new ways of doing things, new products, new sales techniques and different ways of working together. But personality is also one of the main culprits in creating office tension and conflict within teams.
Think of the person you work with most often. How does their personality differ to yours? Do you agree on the same things? Maybe they are patient and calm, letting events unfold around them and dealing with issues as they arise. If you’re a less patient sort of person, always pushing for solutions, continually checking progress and planning ahead, you may find your co-worker’s approach frustrating.
Perhaps you are optimistic. You are always hopeful that your plans will come to fruition, that you’ll nail that deal, make the sale and smash your KPIs. If your team-member is pessimistic – doubting the team’s plan, second-guessing, looking for alternatives and planning for failure – you may find their approach depressing and demotivating. ‘Why even bother,’ you may think, ‘if they’re just going to doubt everything I say and do?’
Principles and method:
Conflict may also arise if employees differ in their basic principles, ideals and standards. For example, a perfectionist and a ‘get things done quickly and move on to the next item’ employee will find they clash on working speed, what constitutes good quality and overall targets. That’s not to say either employee has a better approach – indeed, some circumstances will call for a meticulous approach, while others will necessitate working quickly. Understanding how people with these ideals can work together can go towards developing an effective, successful team.
Employees also differ in how they approach situations and how they work. Some workers perform best in groups, bouncing ideas off each other, while others work best on their own, needing peace and quiet in order to concentrate. An employee that likes the quiet may feel their blood boiling if they work in an office with loud co-workers, and those that need noise and energy to get going will feel they are stagnating in a silent office. It is easy to imagine the conflict that may arise in both of these scenarios, and they are not simple problems to fix!
Envy and sabotage:
A saboteur will take competitiveness – which is healthy in small doses – to extremes. An employee who is envious of his team-member for doing great work, getting rewarded for it and having their successes celebrated can quickly develop a negative attitude to that employee, which may result in them trying to sabotage their work in future. For example, they could withhold vital information, pick up on and emphasise any mistakes made or create a negative environment to discourage or make the employee feel uncomfortable. An element of schadenfreude may come into play here, whereby a worker may take delight in their team-member’s mistakes.
Different backgrounds and cultures:
Conflict may also arise when employees come from different backgrounds or cultures, or between new and established workers. For instance, imagine a situation in which an employee came into the company straight from high school and has spent 30 years working their way up to a management level – a fantastic achievement. Now, how would this employee feel if a 21-year-old graduate came straight into the company at an equal level of management? Clearly this is a difficult situation for any employee and company to cope with, and is something that happens every day. How can employers work to mitigate the conflict and clash that may occur due to this?
A lack of communication is a very obvious cause of conflict and clashes in an organisation. It’s important that employees are all abreast of developments in their working life, be it new policies, amendments to working practices or changes to targets. Imagine an employee working towards a specific target – say, selling 10% more to the South East division this quarter – who, after working hard and putting in extra hours to achieve it, finds out that the targets had been changed: he had actually been required to increase sales in the North West area by 10%… It goes without saying that the employee will not be happy!
Communication problems also occur between team-members. Co-workers need to know what they are required to do in order to achieve the team’s objectives. If there is a miscommunication here – say, one person gets the wrong end of the stick, or thinks they have to complete the task that someone else has been set – then the team will not achieve success and blame will be cast.
If the only communication between managers and team-members is in notice form – stuck on the noticeboard in the hallway, for instance – then it is likely that the important points will be missed. Managers can go some way to remedying this by requiring employees to sign the sheet when they have read the notice, but does this mean they fully understand the issues raised within it? Taking it at face value may – at an extreme – result in catastrophe; the notice could be updated instructions of what to do in the event of a fire.
Responsibility and uncertainty:
What about if there is some uncertainty over an employee’s job role, duties, or the area he covers – could this cause conflicts? The answer, I’m sure you’ll agree, is yes. If someone dedicates a lot of their time a certain activity, only to find someone else has also been doing the same thing, the conflict will arise between the employee and whoever requested they do it. Wild goose chase, anyone?! I’m sure we’ve all been there and know how annoying it can be.
Money is always a touchy subject within a company, and as such so are bonuses, reward schemes and other forms of compensation for success. Targets and KPIs can vary drastically between co-workers, and some people may be inclined to think that theirs are harder to achieve.
If you think you are working doubly as hard as your co-worker, for the same recompense, negative feelings may develop. ‘Why should I strain myself,’ you might think, ‘when he just turns up, does a couple of easy sales and gets the same bonus?’
Why should we try to resolve conflict? What might happen if we let it be?
Leave conflicts to fester at your peril! Of course, some clashes may work out themselves, given enough time. Co-workers may agree to disagree and put the issue behind them, or maybe they can find a way to work out their differences and create a solution that suits them both.
In the worst-case scenario, both employees may be so affected by the conflict that they both leave the company; attrition is one outcome of negative work environments and interpersonal clashes, after all. Alternatively, if one party decides to back down and suck it up, the conflict could appear to be resolved, but underlying negativity could still resurface.
Clearly, the best option is to resolve the conflict!