There are many reasons why the workplace can become a hotbed for drama but that doesn’t mean all offices are doomed for disharmony. Offices are a melting pot of personalities, skills and backgrounds that merge under the forces of pressure, stress and performance and as such can be the perfect breeding ground for disagreements.
Despite being prone to drama, a healthy work environment is key for employees and for the success of your business. According to HR Zone, there are some common themes that breed more intense workplace disharmony, which include poor communication and a lack of the shared cultural and corporate vision.
However, you can take steps to mitigate work drama and increase the harmony of your staff with these four effective practices to help you spot and solve workplace conflicts.
1. Understand the Rules of Engagement
Engaged employees perform better at their jobs and function better with the other individuals of your organization. If you have engaged employees you’ll enjoy far less workplace antics and higher job performance. Yet, according to Gallup's State of the Global Workplace report, only 30 percent of U.S. employees ranked as actively engaged in their jobs. Furthermore, those who didn’t rank as engaged sell into two distinct camps.
According to a Business Journal article on workplace engagement by Gallup, employees who aren’t engaged in their work can be classified as not-engaged and actively disengaged.
The non-engaged employee is, as Gallup puts it, essentially “checked out.” They aren’t performing well and while that can be frustrating, the actively disengaged employees can be even more toxic for your business.
Actively disengaged employees aren’t just coasting at the office but are willfully working to insert their unhappiness into the workforce, as well as actively recruiting converts from the disengaged to join their ranks. Actively disengaged employees will often go as far as openly sabotaging a productive workplace.
Recognizing disengaged workers is important because these employees are often frustrated, feel unchallenged or underutilized but with the right communication and actions you can bring them back around to being engaged. The disengaged staff on your team aren’t hostile or argumentative, but perhaps exhibit signs of disengagement like they speak up less, don’t bring ideas to the table as often where they used to and appear to be going through the motions of their job but with decreased satisfaction.
It’s equally important to know the signs of active disengagement so you can take immediate corrective action before they stir up workplace drama and cause engaged employees to either leave or become disengaged.
2. Start Talking
Communication breakdowns are often the root of disharmony and the office offers plenty of opportunities for sides to break out on particular issues.
A study from Stanford University researched the root causes of workplace conflicts and realized that managers often don’t have the framework necessary to understand how and when a small disagreement can spiral into a full-blown issue effecting the entire office.
The Stanford Organizational Behaviorist study discovered there are stages of conflict, which escalate office disagreements. The team suggests managers keep an eye on obvious conflicts between two employees, because research showed the conflict rarely stays between just those two. Employees will begin to recruit office friends and align co-workers, quickly poisoning the well of productivity and harmony.
The study suggests if a conflict is starting to escalate and employees are starting to recruit allies, it’s time to intervene as the manager. Take the responsible parties to an off-site lunch or have a formal meeting between both sides with HR present to talk about the situation and address it before it spreads.
The more you openly and honestly discuss workplace issues the easier it will be for you to address them and instill a better sense of harmony with your staff. Open dialogue between you and your employees can also reduces water cooler talk and speculation, which can breed gossip and disharmony at the office.
Communication is key to a respectful, harmonious workplace so ensure you’re advocating keeping the dialogue open with your employees.
3. Be the Hammer
Perhaps one of the best leadership quotes comes from Admiral Nimitz, Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet for U.S. naval forces during World War II, who said:
“When you’re in command, COMMAND!”
As the leader and manager of your team it’s up to you to step in and take command if things are spiraling into disharmony. As outlined by the Stanford study above, when office drama starts to brew, it’s up to you as the manager not to allow the behavior to increase or spread. Being the metaphorical hammer of the department isn’t the most enjoyable part of being a manager, but it’s an important role you must embrace to keep your team healthy, functioning and even safe from workplace bullying.
According to the University of Notre Dame Mendoza School of Business, you must step in swiftly to quell workplace conflicts in order to preserve the well being of your team. Suggestions for doing so include bringing all relevant parties to the table to discuss an immediate resolution as well as scheduling formal, frequent check-ins to ensure the resolution is taking root.
4. See the Opportunity
It’s natural to experience a sense of hesitation at having to step in to resolve conflicts, yet the very nature of your reluctance could be adding fuel to the fire of workplace disharmony. If you dread stepping in or feel begrudging toward your staff, your reluctance and attitude will infuse the situation with another layer of conflict.
As the leader, you are in the position to see and utilize the opportunity of conflict to improve the team and you can demonstrate by example how to effectively deal with challenges between staff. You never know how far the influence of your behavior may spread and encourage your staff to resolve issues among themselves in the future.
Glenn Llopis writes in Forbes, being a leader means you have the opportunity to see what others don’t or won’t see. Llopis explains you can choose to approach conflict resolution through a lens of opportunity to have authentic conversations and it can actually be a healthy enabling force in your business, as well as a chance for the professional growth of all parties involved.