10 tips for solving staff disputes

Wooden blocks

Keeping the workplace happy is key to success. Here’s how to navigate problems between staff so everyone can stay focused.

Employees are consistently referred to as a business’s biggest asset, and as employees return to the workplace after the pandemic’s enforced restrictions, they may struggle to adapt after a long absence. As a result, tensions can rise between individuals, but they don’t have to explode into major problems.

Here are ten tips to keep everything harmonious in your business.

1. Don’t ignore it

If you become aware of a potential problem within the workplace, consider the problem and monitor it. It might simply be resolved as your employees settle back into the routine of working with others.

2. Sit down with your employee

If the problem persists or escalates have an informal chat with them. Keep the meeting informal and welcoming and try to understand what the issue is. The meeting should take place somewhere private so that your employee feels able to speak about issues at home or with other employees without fear of being overheard. If your employee is worried about the meeting, then reassure them to make them feel comfortable and able to talk.

3. Don’t jump to conclusions

COVID can create difficulties in everyone’s home lives, and personal problems/worries can create difficulties at work. You won’t know what the problem is until you’ve listened. So…

4. Listen carefully

Try to identify whether their concerns are temporary or more long term. Does the employee have problems at home? Are their family members all well?  

5. Don’t invite both parties into the same room

If the issue is with a colleague, then try and identify the problem and consider mediation. Until you have spoken with both parties separately and identified there is a desire to resolve the problem calmly and positively, it’s best not to bring them together.

6. Allow employees time

We all need time. Give employees space to share their concerns and encourage them to try and find a resolution that works. Don’t expect that a quick five-minute meeting to resolve a long-running complicated dispute. Allocate an appropriate amount of time for the meeting.

7. Try and break problems down

Identify different aspects of the issues that perhaps can be addressed separately. You may require more than one meeting to address all of the points, but you need the issue to be resolved for the workplace to be a happy environment.

8. One size doesn’t fit all

Don’t try and deal with all employee problems in the same manner. On occasions, a formal process may be required, and an employee may expect this. Have a grievance procedure in place that your employee can follow. Asking an employee to write out their grievance can help them think through the problems and may help them clarify the issues.

9. There’s no hurry

Don’t rush the grievance meeting. Let each employee explain their position to allow you to understand exactly what they’re aggrieved about. Remember, a copy should be kept securely in the employee’s personnel file.
Ask someone to take good notes at the meeting, to document exactly what’s discussed, remember that these may be read later, so make sure they are clear.

10. Don’t make a quick decision

Consider the evidence from both sides of the dispute and each separate instance if necessary. When you have reached a decision, document it in a letter to be kept in the employee’s file.

Explain how you reached the decision and use the evidence from the meeting to justify it.

Remember, employees have the right to appeal the decision and spending a little time documenting and explaining it may assist you in the future if the employee appeals or decides to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

John Moody is Director at In-House HR