Ask HR: How Can I Get My Employees to Stop Arguing?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP May 4, 2023

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. 

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

Two of the people I manage don't get along at all. They can't be in the same space for too long without sniping at each other and escalating into an all-out argument. They regularly disrupt our team meetings and workflow with their constant banter. What can I do to get my employees to stop arguing? —Parker

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP: When co-workers are at odds, the whole workplace feels it. As a manager, you should consider your workers' perspectives and preserve your company's interests. That starts with empathetic listening to gather insight. I encourage you to be firm, fair and flexible throughout the process. Additionally, I recommend you seek guidance from an HR professional who has special training in conflict resolution.

Begin by scheduling separate meetings with the two employees to understand the dynamics better and identify the underlying causes of their conflict. Your employees should be more candid about their issues in a one-on-one setting.

It may help to follow up the individual meetings with a joint discussion to address any ongoing concerns. If this is to work, the employees must agree to a respectful and civil conversation. These boundaries apply to the debate and their behavior afterward. Make the consequences for not respecting these boundaries clear. In addition to raising awareness of each other's perspectives, highlight how their acrimony impacts others in the workplace. They may be so focused on each other that they can't see the collateral damage they've caused.

Alternatively, having your employees meet with each other first may help facilitate a resolution sooner. Be prepared to mediate or consider including an outside mediator to help the employees resolve their differences. Challenge them to reach a compromise to address their differences without jeopardizing their work.

Ideally, the employees will settle their differences and establish civil workplace behavior. However, if lingering discord remains, review your company's policies and consult with HR on your best recourse.

It is common for an employer to address workplace conduct in an official policy, and violations may warrant using a performance improvement plan (PIP) or progressive discipline. PIPs not only address performance-related issues but can address behavior-related concerns as well. Document and share your expectations with both employees and give them a reasonable amount of time to improve their behavior. PIPs often include consequences if there is no improvement, up to and including termination. Progressive discipline may apply if there was a policy violation along with PIPs. This discipline can consist of verbal, written and eventually final warnings before termination.

Hopefully, these employees can resolve their differences civilly. Gaining perspective can help all those involved make better, more informed decisions and avoid the need for termination. In the workplace, people should work and thrive together.

I thoroughly enjoy my current work situation. I love the work I do, my co-workers, and my boss. However, I've been regularly recruited for similar positions with higher salaries. Though I'm not seeking to leave my company, I can't help thinking I deserve more. What's the best way to request a raise? —Kristine

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP: Even as the U.S. economy slows along with the overall labor market, many employers are still looking to close a sizable skills gap. Talented workers with sought-after skill sets are still very attractive targets for employers. However, many people spend years of their careers searching for the proper fit, and it sounds like you've found yours. 

Check the temperature at your company. Has it recently conducted a hiring or salary freeze or undergone any layoffs? If so, now probably isn't an ideal time to request a salary increase.

If you have a green light to ask, arm yourself with some comparable salary information. Local area and industry salary data are available via the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and online job boards. This data can help you determine a reasonable salary range to target. Offering a range conveys flexibility and doesn't come across as a demand or ultimatum.

Be prepared to promote yourself. Compile a list of your accomplishments and include supporting performance evaluations and any recognition to underscore your value. 

Schedule a career discussion with your employer to lay out your case. Be open and ready for feedback, including "No." Don't take it personally, as it may have less to do with you and more with your company's current standing or other factors. Your employer's salary raises are likely tied to an annual budget and thus cyclical. Ask if there is anything you can do to earn an increase or promotion in the next cycle.

If you aren't satisfied with the response, consider other career opportunities. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate the total compensation package, including salary ranges, bonus plans, benefits and incentives. Do not allow financial considerations to blind you to the total work experience. Examine the company's intangibles, such as culture, climate, reviews and ratings. Weigh how the company aligns with your career goals. Should you accept another offer, it should check multiple boxes for you.

Best wishes in your career.



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