HR practices can help your team navigate the most challenging situations, including when the department hears about concerns or friction secondhand. While HR may do its best to be involved on an ongoing basis, key issues can still go unnoticed and fester behind the scenes.
What is the next step to take? Do you speak to everyone involved? Or should you instead issue general reminders about workplace expectations? Here's a closer look at which HR practices can be effective in managing conflict and helping to ensure that all participants feel heard and respected.
Create a Culture Where Employees Can Raise Concerns
Consider a situation where an employee approaches a manager about a situation where coworkers aren’t getting along, but asks the manager not to take action or disclose who reported it. Whenever possible, begin by creating an environment where employees feel safe to raise concerns. It’s important to focus on a culture of transparency, where team members can raise concerns without fear of reprisal.
Investigate Areas of Concern
If a concern is brought to your attention, it's important to take action and evaluate the situation. Investigate all complaints – do not make assumptions. After you examine the situation, take the time to gather all the facts. Talk to different individuals involved. Observe situations on your own. Examine any documentation that might support claims being made.
The severity of the situation should dictate your actions. For example, secondhand claims of sexual harassment or discrimination may merit a very different response than friction and bickering between employees. However, before moving forward, assess the veracity of the claims, their seriousness, and the perspectives of different players.
Provide Intervention and Resources
For situations that require a legal and/or management response, it's important to escalate them and follow the company's defined procedures in partnership with HR and legal counsel. When issues come up that are important but less severe, consider providing resources to help the situation. Remind all employees about your employee assistance program if your company offers it. If there’s friction within a team that could be hashed out with a level-headed conversation, consider encouraging a discussion mediated by an experienced member of HR. Focus on providing support and solutions that can help create a positive professional environment and get everyone back to focusing on their work.
Increase Visibility and Engagement
If managers or HR are learning about problems secondhand, it's important to evaluate your levels of visibility and engagement: being present in the office, circulating and talking to your team, or ensuring you have regular meetings with staff. When executives, managers, and HR are a regular part of your team's day, they may be less likely to let behaviors slip or let underlying tensions fester.
Remind Staff About Expectations
When concerns are raised behind the scenes, evaluate what the larger implications could mean. For example, if concerns have been raised about security or safety violations, it might signal the need for refresher training for your entire team or department. If complaints of slacking off, tension between staff, or gossiping lead to a negative environment, consider dedicating a staff meeting to sharing what you've observed and conducting a clear conversation around workplace expectations.
It’s inevitable that conflict that HR has previously been unaware of will arise. Clearly following HR best practices that help you assess the situation, gather all the facts, and provide support and solutions to teams is critical. Work closely with HR resources and employment counsel if necessary. There may also be situations where you need to look for ways for deeper engagement, closer management collaboration, and investing in a positive work culture. Every step taken to resolve these issues can have a long-term positive return on investment for the company.