One of the most important skills managers need to have is to defuse workplace tensions and conflicts between team members.

It could be that the colleagues have differing views and are constantly at each other’s throats. Or perhaps there is some simmering tension and it’s become the elephant in the room.

Either way, it is important that managers nip the conflict in the bud as soon as possible. If not, you could have very disengaged employees, low team morale, a bad working environment, absences, resignations, grievances and worst of all, Employment Tribunals claims.

So what can you do?

Here are four key steps to consider:

1  Prevention is key

To reduce the chances of workplace conflict becoming grievances and claims, it is useful to have regular 1:1s with employees to give them the forum to air their concerns. It is also beneficial to adopt a workplace culture where employees feel encouraged to come to their managers and share their views and issues.

Managers should lead by example. They should be clear what values and standards of behaviour are expected from the team. This should all be documented in your Employee Handbook’s policies and procedures. If issues do arise, it is important that employees see that they are all given the same importance and concerns are taken seriously and dealt with effectively.

Make sure that all managers are trained in conflict management and are comfortable following internal procedures, especially disciplinary and grievance procedures.

2  Proactively commence discussions

If you have noticed a workplace conflict, speak to the each of the employees concerned – get them to explain what is going on, how the issues arose and explore how they wish the conflict to be resolved.

It is important to find out the root of the conflict. Is there a personality clash? Is it a battle of egos? Is there bad communication in the team? Have there been instances of bullying or harassment? Are they undermining each other’s work? After speaking to the parties, you may need to do some of your own digging to find out more.

Once you have understood what is at the heart of the issue, you can bring them together to talk and to resolve the conflict.

By stepping in early, you are preventing the issues escalating and leading to grievances.

3  Use your formal procedures

If necessary, you will need to resort to your formal procedures. It is important to make sure all your HR policies and procedures are clear, robust and up to date. Your managers should be trained and your employees should be aware of where to access these procedures, for example, in the Employee Handbook.

4  Think about alternative dispute resolution

You could also consider mediation to resolve the issue. Although it is not appropriate to deal with all types of disputes, it can be useful to resolve workplace conflict, such as discrimination, harassment, bullying or personality clashes. Contact your Ellis Whittam Employment Law Adviser for further information on how mediation can be integrated into your employer’s practices and procedures or to make use of Ellis Whittam’s mediation services.

Want to find out more?

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10 things employers must know about grievances

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