When co-workers fight: How should HR step in?

Sometimes telling them to “cut it out” won’t work. HRD finds out how you can play peacemaker in the office

When co-workers fight: How should HR step in?

When staffers at a small business can’t get along, many owners find that telling them to “cut it out” doesn't necessarily work.

Owners need to get involved when there's ongoing conflict that disrupts the workplace and threatens productivity. Ideally, an owner encourages staffers to resolve their differences, and if they can't on their own, find ways to help restore peace.

Here are things a business owner should do:

Take complaints seriously
If staffers vent their frustration about each other, an owner should keep an open mind. “If you’re the mediator and you’re on a predetermined side, you're not going to work it,” said Craig Vanderburg, chief operating officer at Trion Solutions, a human resources consultancy based in Troy, Michigan.

And if the problem results from an uneven work load or because one staffer seems to be getting favoured treatment, the boss needs to ensure that everyone is treated equitably.

If it’s a personality clash, staffers must resolve their issues like adults
An owner can validate staffers’ feelings, but at the end of the day, they need to find a way to work together. “Appeal to them as individuals, but hold them accountable for the relationship,” said Rick Gibbs, a consultant with Insperity, an HR provider based in Houston.

Get ready to mediate philosophical disagreements
When staffers are at continuing loggerheads over goals, or the ways goals should be accomplished, the boss may need to help them remember that the company and not their egos is what matters.

“They may need to have a facilitator to explain to them why it's important for them to get in alignment,” Vanderburg said.

Try teambuilding
There are a variety of teambuilding exercises, many of them fun, that can help staffers work together better. Something as simple as team sports can help some staffers learn about and appreciate each other.

Get some professional help
Some HR pros use personality tests to help employees understand themselves and each other, for example what characteristics in a co-worker are likely to push their buttons. HR can also help an owner determine whether there are management problems contributing to the animosity.

When hiring, get information and set expectations
Owners and hiring managers need to remember that the skill sets they’re looking for in a new employee include the ability to work well with others. Personality tests can help owners screen out candidates who are likely to be a bad fit. And make it clear to prospective staffers that they’re expected to be team players, and that bad behaviour won't be tolerated.


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