You want your employees to feel comfortable and have fun at work, but the workplace shouldn’t feel like a high school. It’s vital for your employees to be respectful, cordial, and professional with each other in order to work together effectively. And if they’re fighting like two teens over a prom date, guess who’s the real loser? That’s right, it’s your business. So, how can you intervene appropriately when two employees aren’t getting along?
Letting employees handle their issues on their own is a common approach, but not a great one. In fact, it can be an ineffective management strategy that costs businesses in productivity and, potentially, valuable employees. Intervening is truly the best strategy. Unless you’re ready to fire one or both employees, you’ll need to intervene as early as possible to prevent disagreements from ruining your business.
But we understand that confronting warring employees isn’t the easiest thing to do. So, we’ll show you why it’s so important to take this approach, how to do it, and next steps in case those fighting employees just keep fighting.
Why Intervention Is the Best Solution
If two or more of your employees are fighting, you might be inclined to take a step back and let them handle it themselves, even if that means one of them pushes the other out of the business. They’re adults, after all.
True, most people don’t enjoy confrontation. Rather than trying to mediate the situation, you can figure out who started the problem, and fire the culprit. Or, you can fire both of them and hope the effects of their fight on your business ends there.
As you can probably guess, though, neither of these options are effective or beneficial. Firing your employees just leads to spending valuable time attracting new talent. Plus, if you fire just one of them, you risk angering any other employees who were on their side.
And you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions about the situation: Are the employees disrupting other employees? Are their issues preventing them from working as hard as the other employees? If you answered yes to either of those questions, then you have a problem. Aside from creating an unhealthy work environment, fighting employees can negatively impact productivity as a whole, which directly affects profits. Clearly, this is a problem that requires fixing at the management level.
Despite how much you might want to believe that an employee disagreement will magically disappear, it likely won’t. Part of being a manager or business owner is stepping in when employees can’t get along. Of course, your employees don’t need to be best friends, but being able to work together is a requirement.
If you don’t mind dealing with extra stress, lost productivity, and endless complaints, let the problem continue. Otherwise, intervene now.
The Costs of Employee Infighting
If you’re still on the fence, take a look at the costs of employee infighting. Whether the employees are loudly arguing in the break room, or they’re quietly brooding and unwilling to work together, their issues will cost your business in more ways than one.
Some of the most common costs of employee infighting include:
- Higher employee turnover rates: One or both fighting employees might leave your business. Or, their fighting may inspire other employees to quit to avoid the stressful situation. Replacing an entry-level employee costs as much as 50% of their annual salary, while high-level employees cost 400%.
- Loss of productivity: Every hour your employees spend shooting each other hateful glances or refusing to work together is time your business pays for zero work completed. When all that time is added up, you might as well be handing over extra vacation days.
- Added stress on the entire department: Two employees not getting along negatively impacts the mood of every employee around them. One of the best productivity hacks is happiness, so stress certainly doesn’t make for to a productive work environment. In fact, according to one study, 57% of participants felt disengaged due to high stress.
- Difficulty attracting talent: As employees leave your business, word might get around about the circumstances under which they quit. Avoiding talking to either employee demonstrates a lack of effective management skills, or any consideration for other employees—neither of which are attractive to prospective employees. And if you can’t attract the right talent, you’re giving the competition a chance to get them instead.
Can your business really afford these costs? Probably not! For small ventures with tight business budgets, the loss of two employees due to infighting is enough to ruin all you’ve worked hard for.
How to Effectively Intervene in an Employee Argument
Deciding to mediate a disruptive employee argument is tricky, but, in most cases, it’s truly the best course of action. Here’s how to do go about the intervention process appropriately.
1. Meet one-on-one.
It’s always best to talk to each employee separately, at least at first. Explain that you’ve noticed tension between them. Explain how it’s affecting their work and other employees. Tensions may be running high, but try not to sound confrontational. Instead, use a concerned tone that will encourage your employee to share their side of the story.
2. Approach their coworkers.
If you can’t figure out what’s wrong by talking to the employees directly, talk to some of the coworkers closest to them. If their coworkers’ argument has been truly disruptive, they’ll be more than willing to cooperate with you. You’ll be amazed at how much they’ve noticed.
3. Find common ground.
The next step might make you feel like you’re wrangling toddlers at daycare, but it just might end the problem: Bring both employees into a joint meeting, and help them try to find common ground. Find the original source of the problem and get them both talking. The goal is to get one or both to apologize, or at least reach an understanding.
When you’re mediating an argument between employees (or anyone, for that matter), it’s crucial that you establish a safe and open environment. Whatever you might think of the situation, set your own biases and opinions aside. Maintain an even temper, and truly listen to both employees’ sides as objectively as possible. If your employees suspect that you’re favoring one over the other, you’ll hit a dead end in your negotiation—or, worse, you’ll exacerbate the argument.
4. Make a game plan.
When you talk to both employees together, create a plan to help them focus more on their jobs than their grievances with each other. It’s possible that the argument stems from unhappiness or frustration within their roles. If that’s the case, work with them and their managers (if relevant) to give them new projects to work on.
Either way, set a timeline by which you need to see improvement in their behaviors. Clearly establish the consequences if they don’t follow that plan, whether that’s probation or outright dismissal from the company. This should be enough to convey to your employees the gravity of the situation. It’s likely that they’d rather let bygones be bygones than potentially lose their jobs.
5. Keep ongoing tabs.
Even after you’ve mediated the argument, your work still isn’t done. After a couple of days, follow up with each employee, as well as their coworkers, to see if the situation has resolved—if you don’t follow up with your employees, they likely won’t take the intervention seriously. See if they’ve stuck to the plans you created during the intervention phase. If not, talk to each employee again and advise them of the consequences of not finding a way to work together.
Finally, let them both know they’re free to come to you at any time for guidance, either together or separately.
What If the Employees Still Can’t Get Along?
You might find it baffling that your employees continue to fight, even after you’ve attempted to manage the argument directly. The truth is, hiring an employee who’s eligible for their job doesn’t guarantee that they can maintain professionalism under pressure.
If an argument persists even after you’ve attempted to manage the situation, you do have a couple of options left. If you decide to give both employees another shot in the company, you should certainly try to resolve the issue again, using these or other mediation tactics. At the same time, though, you’ll need to separate them. Move them to different departments, shifts, or even to desks across the room.
And if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to determine whether their value as employees outweighs the disruption of their fighting. If you decide that their fighting is simply too distressing on the business, then you may need to let either one or both of them go.
Firing employees is never an easy thing to do. But assuming you’ve done everything you can to tamp down infighting, it might be your best option. By letting truly disruptive employees go, you can steer your business back on track toward peaceful productivity.