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What Can a Manager Do When Employees Won't Get Along?
Identify the problem. I know, I know, the problem is that the employees aren't getting along. But, what is the underlying problem? Why are the employees not getting along? Here are a few of the many possibilities:
Obviously, this list could go on, as the possibilities are endless, but these are very common reasons why people aren't getting along.
It's critical that you identify the real problem, because if you don't, you'll implement the wrong solution.
For instance, if Jane and Heidi don't get along and you just keep telling them to work it out, it won't solve the underlying problem that Jane is a slacker and Heidi is constantly forced to pick up the extra work.
Likewise, if no one likes Steve, is it because he's truly terrible or is it because Frank has been spreading rumors? You really need to know.
Identifying the problem can sometimes require outside help. As a manager, you should bring in your HR person to help with this. Human Resources can often look at things from an outside viewpoint and spot what you can't see close up.
If you've been hearing over and over how awful Steve is, you might have forgotten that Frank felt he should have received the promotion instead of Steve and thus, jealousy is the true problem.
Sit down with the source of the problem. Now, to be fair, it's rarely black and white. In the original example, Jane is a slacker which forces Heidi to pick up her slack, so you think, “Jane is the source of the problem.” But, you also need to consider whether Heidi is nit-picky, constantly criticizing Jane's work, or undermining Jane by contacting Jane's clients directly. In this case, you'd want to talk with Jane and Heidi.
Here's a sample dialog for your discussion with Jane:
Manager: Jane, I've noticed that there's tension between you and Heidi. Can you tell me what is going on there?
Jane: Heidi is always criticizing me and jumping in on my clients.
Manager: I will talk to Heidi about that. I've also noticed that you leave work until the last minute, which may explain why Heidi is jumping in so often. I'll stop Heidi from giving you a difficult time and you can bump your timelines up so that there isn't any risk of missing a deadline. Would you like help developing a revised timeline?
And here's how you can begin the needed discussion with Heidi:
Manager: Heidi, I've noticed that there is tension between you and Jane. Can you tell me what's going on there?
Heidi: Jane is such a slacker. I'm always having to do her work.
Heidi: Because if I don't do the work, the work won't get done.
Manager: It's my job to ensure that Jane's work does get done - not yours. I hereby relieve you of the obligation to worry about Jane's workload. If I feel Jane needs help, I'll contact you.
Otherwise, you can focus on your own clients and you need to let Jane focus on hers. If you see a train wreck about to happen, come to me before going to Jane and I'll handle it.
Now that last part might be a little strange — because generally, it's better if employees work out their own differences without having to involve a manager. But, in a case where employees are at each other's throats, it's best to separate them as much as possible.
Follow up: Now, here comes the hard part. You need to follow through. If you don't follow up with Jane to make sure that she's keeping to the new timelines and you don't correct Heidi every time that she tries to jump in, you won't solve the problem.
They'll still hate each other and they'll hate you because they'll see you as worthless. If you are going to solve a problem, you need to do the work to carry it through.
For a jealousy problem, you again need to address both people. For Frank, who is upset that he wasn't promoted, you need to tell him that the decision is final, and you do not want to hear him say anything else negative about Steve.
Follow up with a performance improvement plan, if necessary — and yes, not saying mean things about coworkers is part of a legitimate performance issue. But, Steve also needs to display sensitivity to Frank. It's hard to get passed over for a promotion.
Managers often struggle with coming up with solutions to the problem of bickering employees. But if you simply identify the underlying behavior issue, address it, and then follow up to solve it, you can work miracles in your department. Your employees will get along and you can create the harmonious environment at work that you want, too.
|Robert Franklin, Information Technology||5 Years|
|Barb Pierce, Security||10 Years|
|Amy Canfield, Thom Harris, Linda Coursey||2nd|
|Rik Brosten, Teri Rust||3rd|
|Chet Herbst, Jacquelynn Hanvey||5th|
|Martin Gibbs, Sam Maynes||8th|
|Debbie Goodwin, Jill Groseclose||10th|
|Kevin Goodan, Rhett Diessner||13th|
|Tony Fernandez, Laura Bracken||14th|
|Austin Johnson, Sandra Boyd||15th|
|Kristina Keener, Sam Cosgrove||16th|
|Brooke O'Brien-Cushman, Theresa Chrisman||18th|
|Ella Mae Keatts, Holly Tower||22nd|
|Burma Hutchinson, Rhonda Combs, Rodney Schmidt||23rd|
|Laura Earles, Matt Johnston||26th|
WSA Winner: Congratulations to Laura Hughes!
"Can you imagine trying to keep up with the constantly changing federal regulations regarding financial aid? Throw in compliance for the state grants a variety of scholarships and more? Conveying that message to your staff staff in other offices and most of all to students? Regulations that were written to cover a wide expanse of issues interpretation to be in compliance and the risk of losing a program with significant impact to the entire college? That's what Laura does. A task most would shy away from but Laura takes it in stride. She gives it her all she makes it work. She continually makes the effort and balances it all. Staying in compliance keeping her staff up to date reaching out to new students doing what is possible to keep funding for all students. She’s thorough attention to detail good communication skills; Laura is all about service and getting it right. We are lucky to have someone so committed to LCSC’s needs. Thanks Laura!"