We live in a country deeply divided politically and culturally. Civility in daily life, including the workplace, seems ever harder to find. Conflict has always been a part of human culture. However, deeply held beliefs are being challenged on all sides and exacerbated by a constant bombardment of instant communication, anonymous social media, and a 24/7 news cycle.
It is not surprising that personal disagreements spill over into the workplace. After all, we often spend more time with our coworkers than our families. When tensions and arguments become part of the workday, productivity and employee satisfaction both suffer. An annual poll on workplace incivility shows that rude behavior has increased each year since its launch in 1998. In 2016, 62% of employees felt they were treated rudely at work.
The impact of these feelings on employees is significant.
- 78% became less committed to the organization where they worked
- 66% demonstrated a decline in overall performance
- 47% deliberately spent less time at work
- 25% took their frustrations out on customers
These are scary numbers! What can you do as an employer or a manager to prevent or mitigate conflict among your employees? First, be a role model. Your staff will take their cues from organizational leaders. Don’t be drawn into political or cultural discord. If you treat all employees and all customers with genuine courtesy and respect, they will be more likely to hear your message and follow your lead.
Create expectations for how your employees treat one another, and how they treat customers. Put this in writing! Ask for input and include employee ideas in your document so that it becomes a shared set of values. Make sure that each employee receives a copy of your values statement and that you become its champion. Highlight different parts of this document in ongoing discussions, staff newsletters or other internal communications. Make sure it is seen to be everyone’s responsibility to make this work, and hold employees accountable if it is not.
Invest in conflict resolution training. Working through conflict does not always come naturally. Help your staff learn to express disagreement in healthy and constructive ways. Encourage staff to consider the impact of their words and actions. Remember the childhood rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”? That’s not true. Words can wound, and cut deeply.
Create opportunities for constructive discussion on tough topics—maybe a brown bag lunch on a monthly schedule. Help them to consider the impact of their words and actions on their coworkers. Consider having an outside expert come in to facilitate; your EAP or a local mediation center may have free or discounted discussion leaders available.
Your key to success is the consistent encouragement of human connections. These actions show that you recognize and respect individual differences, that you value each employee and, in turn, expect them to respect and value others. Conflict has always been a part of human culture. Unchecked, modern tensions can seriously damage your organization and the people who work for—and with—you. With your leadership, each employee can become a bridge builder, and together you will promote a new culture of civility and success in your workplace.