How Can a Manager Deal With Employees Who Won't Get Along?

Coaching, intervention, and mediation are musts for workplace harmony

Woman ar interview
••• Asia Images Group/Getty Images

Managers face a sticky problem when confronted with two adults in the same office who won't get along. The tension between the two employees affects their work as well as the work of others in close proximity to their conflict. Employees become stressed because just coming into the office feels uncomfortable. 

For managers, it is important to intervene early. In extreme examples, the conflict might be due to one employee who is creating a problem, but most often it is a matter of having two personalities that don't mesh well together. The sooner a solution is reached, the sooner both employees will be happy to be able to move on—and the sooner their coworkers will be relieved to feel the easing of tensions in the office.

As a manager, do not let the conflict fester. It will get worse and the impact of the conflict will become more widespread and hurtful to the participants and all of their coworkers and customers. And, the longer a disagreement or conflict continues, the harder it becomes to solve.

What Can Managers Do to Deal With Employees Who Don't Get Along?

Identifying the problem is perhaps the most important step. To do that, supervisors need to be involved and in touch with the day-to-day activities in the workplace, and when there are clues that a problem might exist, you need to step in and address the problem. Letting the problems fester by hoping they will pass will simply make matters worse.

Potential Reasons for the Conflict

Some potential underlying reasons for conflict when employees are not getting along might include:

  • An employee is not pulling their weight
  • An employee is gossiping about another employee
  • Unfair pay structures that employees know about
  • Jealousy
  • Clashing personalities
  • High-stress levels in the workplace
  • Favoritism of one over the other by the manager
  • Perceived inequity in job titles

You May Need Outside Help When Employees Don't Get Along

Identifying the problem sometimes can require outside help. As a manager, you should bring in someone from human resources to help with this situation. HR often can look at things from an outside viewpoint and spot what you can't see because you are too close to the problem.

Once you have a good idea of what the problem is, sit down with the source or sources of the conflict. The situation is rarely black and white, and more than one person typically is involved. In the beginning, it's a good idea to meet with employees one on one, and someone from HR also should be in the meeting to help ease any tension.

How to Address the Problem With the Employees Who Won't Get Along

Consider an example where employees Jane and Heidi do not get along. Here's how your conversation with Jane might go:

Manager: Jane, I've noticed that tension seems to be going on 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 up your timelines so there isn't any risk of missing a deadline. Would you like help to develop a revised timeline?

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?

Heidi: Jane is such a slacker. I'm always having to do her work.

Manager: Why?

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 your help, I'll contact you. Otherwise, focus on your own clients and 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.

Follow-up With the Employees Who Won't Get Along

After identifying a problem, addressing it with employees, and finding a solution, you need to following through. This is sometimes the most difficult part of dealing with employees who don't get along.

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 then, they'll hate you, too, because they'll see your intervention as worthless. If you are going to solve a problem, you need to do the work to carry it through.

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 be successful.

The Bottom Line

Most of the time, employees are allowing their emotions to override their professionalism. Your intervention as a coach and guide can help them move past the emotional aspects into solving the real, existing problem. Then, your employees will get along and you can create a harmonious environment at work that you want, too.

————————————

Suzanne Lucas is a freelance journalist specializing in Human Resources. Suzanne's work has been featured on notable publications including "Forbes," "CBS," "Business Insider" and "Yahoo."