Blog Post

How to Keep a Workplace Conflict From Souring Company Culture

Autumn Sanelli

Manager of Investigations, Convercent

Let's face it: no workplace is immune from conflict and wrongdoing. Whether it's stolen equipment, fudged expense reports, bosses behaving badly, or something far more serious, incidents like these happen frequently -- and they can have lingering effects on company culture and employees. Yet most companies fail to ask an important question after they clean up the mess: How are we going to recover from this? The answer to that question can factor into the direction of a company and the retention of prized employees.

When dealing with workplace issues, it is a mistake to sweep the problem under the rug and go back to "business as usual." Failure to follow up once an incident is resolved can make or break your culture. Employees tend to lose trust or become disengaged in their daily tasks. Instead of focusing on work, they focus on the problem. Some even focus on it so much they decide to leave.

So how do you turn the negative behavior into a positive experience for everyone at the company? How do you reset the work environment to keep your employees engaged and looking ahead? Here are three strategies I rely upon:

Be As Transparent as Possible

Always acknowledge an incident or situation to the extent possible. This means informing any employee that may be affected -- either directly or indirectly. Don't limit the acknowledgment of the situation simply to the people who were the main players. Of course, some information is confidential and you can’t reveal it to others, but you can always say that there are some employee concerns that recently came to the attention of management -- and that you're doing something about it. Provide general information that the company responded -- or is responding -- and will take appropriate action. This is also a good time to reiterate policies and encourage employees to report concerns as they arise. Transparency from the start can make a huge difference in how employees react.

Don't Focus On the Bad

Try to address the positive outcomes of the situation first. For example, if the problem was about a poor work environment or negative behavior by a manager, it's important to reestablish trust among the team members. Managers should address groups of employees and explain that they're committed to maintaining a positive work environment. Asking for for suggestions helps, too. What would they like to see changed? Getting the group involved in the solution pays big dividends.

Remember, too, that just because you are asking for suggestions doesn’t mean you have to take them all. There will be suggestions that are just not possible for business reasons. But simply opening the door to employee participation will make them feel like a valued employee and engage them in the solution.

Do What You Say - Commit to Following Up

Nothing is worse than involving employees in the solution process and then putting their suggestions on the back-burner. This will undo all of your efforts. Set a timeline with employees about when you plan reconnect with them about the progress -- and then stick to it. Too often after the issue dies down, there is little to no follow up. Don’t let your company fall into this trap -- it becomes cyclical and only invites more problems down the road.

The act of reaching out to employees and showing them that you care will lend itself to positive results. Some of you may be thinking that you don’t have time for all this -- after all, you do have a full workload. Keep in mind, the more positive the work culture, the more dedicated your employees. If you have hard working employees whose behavior aligns with the company values, you will see fewer problems arise in the future -- decreasing your workload. A little more effort at the beginning will always pay off in the end.

Photo credit: Can Stock

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