Ask HR: How Can I Get Co-Workers to Stop Feuding?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP October 29, 2021
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Ask HR: How Can I Get Co-Workers to Stop Feuding?

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.

 

I am a sales manager over a 12-person team. One of my top salespeople and one of our key support staffers have been feuding over the last few weeks. The animosity between them creates tension in our office. Should I address them separately or together? Should I consider letting one go? —Aiden

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: When co-workers are feuding, the whole workplace suffers. As a manager, you are expected to be sensitive to the perspective of your workers and protect the interest of your business. But to get there, you want to start by listening with empathy as you gather their perspectives. So be firm, fair and flexible as you sort out this situation. Additionally, I strongly advise you seek the assistance of HR practitioners, as they are specially trained to help manage these situations.

It may be ideal to begin by scheduling separate meetings with your employees to better understand the dynamics and to get to the root cause of the feuding. In a one-on-one setting, your employees should be more open and honest about their issues.

After meeting with each one individually, you may want to have a joint discussion to address any ongoing concerns. Be sure to set clear boundaries and expectations during the discussion and for their behavior going forward.

Termination should never come as a surprise, so there are a few other things to consider before letting either one or both go. Having your employees meet with each other may help facilitate a resolution sooner. Be prepared to mediate, or consider including an outside mediator to help the employees get on the same page, brainstorm possible solutions and reach a resolution on their next steps.

Ideally, you will have an effective meeting with both employees, and they will choose to respect each other in the workplace and move forward in a positive direction. However, if there are lingering concerns, issues or policy violations, review your company's policies and consult with HR on your recourse.

It is common for an employer to address workplace conduct in a policy, and violations may warrant using a performance improvement plan (PIP) and/or progressive discipline. PIPs not only address performance-related issues but also can address behavior-related concerns. Document and share your expectations with both employees and provide a reasonable amount of time to improve their behavior. Often, PIPs will include consequences if there is no improvement, up to and including termination. Progressive discipline may also be used if there was a policy violation; the usual progression is a verbal warning, a written warning and a final warning before a termination.

I'll add this: It is imperative that you listen to each employee and understand each perspective. Also, make sure they understand the collateral damage of their behavior. The two may be so wrapped up in the conflict that they may miss how it impacts other co-workers and work performance. So put the ball in their court by asking if there is a way to address their differences that doesn't jeopardize the work.

I'm hopeful that level heads will prevail. Adding perspective can help all involved make better, more-informed decisions and perhaps avoid the need for termination. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain a workplace where people can have positive and productive work experiences.

 

Our state recently raised its minimum wage rate. Now, all our workers are paid the same—even our most experienced and productive workers. Several of them are resentful that we no longer have differentiation for those who merit it. This mandatory wage hike does not leave us much financial room to raise salaries. What options do I have to reward work performance? —Chenise

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Acknowledgment of great work performance and worker commitment is vital for organizations to attract and retain the best workers. While wages are commonly used when rewarding work performance, there are many creative rewards and recognition programs that are free or low-cost. 

Acknowledging your best workers by differentiated work responsibilities and titles requires virtually no cost. Offer them lead and supervisory roles and put them in a position to exert greater positive influence in the workplace by training and guiding workers.

Similarly, formal recognition in the form of a handwritten note from a manager or even a letter of appreciation from the president or CEO, with a copy to the employee's HR file, can elevate the esteem of your best performers.

Other free ideas include:

  • Flexible work hours.
  • Priority parking spaces.
  • Features in company promotions on social media or your website.

There are a host of low-cost recognition and rewards options available as well. Offering paid training and development can add value to workers' skill sets and set them up to potentially earn more money in the future. It can also help workers to be more effective at their current job, which makes it a win for both sides.

Providing them a paid membership in a trade association is another idea for investing in their professional development. In addition, some employers can award a small one-time bonus with much less financial impact than a merit increase.

Other low-cost recognition and rewards options include:

  • Full- or part-time remote work.
  • Tickets to local sporting events, concerts or plays.
  • Additional time off.
  • Recognition/award ceremonies with catered food and gifts.
  • Gifts or gift cards without a formal ceremony.
  • Free or discounted fitness club memberships.

Overall, people want to feel valued and appreciated. Managers should regularly acknowledge their staff's contributions. Cultivating a culture of employee value and appreciation should be an intentional company commitment regardless of budget constraints.

I hope one or more of these options works for you.

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