From Batman v Superman to Marvel’s Civil War, Hollywood is turning team mates against each other this year. It raises a good question – how do you manage conflict in the workplace?
“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.”
So says Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred in the trailer for this week’s big film release Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; and it’s a turn of phrase that would be familiar to anyone whose work colleagues have turned them sour. Those uninitiated with comics may question the basic premise of the film since Batman and Superman are firm friends and colleagues on the Justice League. Yet as any fan of DC or Marvel will tell you, all good superhero team-ups start with a fight.
However much you may want heroes on your team (indeed one large organisation I once worked for implemented a course called ‘superhero training’), strong personalities and different approaches can lead to a crisis if not well managed. Half of the respondents in a recent CIPD survey reported that internal conflict had led to people leaving an organisation. Meanwhile a similar proportion reported that internal disputes had escalated to bullying and harassment.
Whether you have a team of Clark Kents or they are all a little more Bruce Wayne, ensuring that everyone overcomes their differences in a professional manner is vital.
Unlike a typical superhero scrap workplace conflict rarely leaves demolished buildings and collateral damage. So what are the symptoms that you need to look out for?
- Behavioural Changes: Has your team stopped talking? Is there even outright hostility between co-workers?
- Drop in Motivation: A perceivable change in atmosphere. People stop volunteering for tasks and providing feedback.
- Low Productivity: Low motivation and antipathy can lead to a bad atmosphere in the workplace – which means less work gets done.
- Sickness Absence: Conflict can cause stress, unhappiness, and perhaps even illness.
How can you resolve conflict in the workplace?
Prevention is always better than cure. Over 80% of HR professionals believe that identifying and addressing issues before they can have a negative effect is the most effective way to manage conflict. That’s not always possible though, and when a disagreement becomes serious enough to affect your business then you need to step in and resolve it.
Often a dispute will stem from a miscommunication. Talk informally with your employees, listen to them and give them a chance to express their concerns. Identify and agree any actions and take steps to make these happen. Where appropriate keep your employees informed about how you are addressing their concerns. As a manager it’s vital to remember that you are a role model for your team. Act with integrity throughout the process and respect the confidentiality of the situation. Avoid taking sides and treat all employees as equals.
A proactive approach will hopefully be enough to navigate the conflict before it can escalate to Gotham City-shattering levels. However you may find that there are times when the situation calls for a more formal process.
This is where HR Solutions can help. We can guide you through employee conflict and help you to resolve the situation as painlessly as possible. And if it has escalated to the point that you’re facing a grievance or a claim of harassment, we provide the advice and support that you need to protect your business.