Addressing management issues

March 1, 2010

Edited by C. Anne Pontius, MBA, CMPE,

How to handle staff squabbles

Q What is the
best way to deal with conflicts between employees?

A Unfortunately, conflict
is an inevitable part of management, especially in today’s lab where the
workload has grown and lean staffing has required employees to work more
for less. This creates a stressful environment where conflicts can arise
over trivial matters and misunderstandings. Peacekeeping is often a huge
part of the manager’s job description, because open warfare is bad for
team morale. When there is excessive quarreling or absolute animosity
between a couple of co-workers, other employees can become distracted
and pay less attention to their job duties.

If the bickering between employees leads to
less-than-adequate job performances, it is time to act. Keep in mind
your job is not to transform Hatfield and McCoy into best
buddies, but to secure good job performances is your

At times, you may feel as if you are being forced
to play the role of “mom,” but before you declare you are going to “stop
this car” until they can behave themselves, invite the quarrelling
employees to your office (if you have one) or a conference room away
from the lab. Tell them the purpose of the meeting is to discuss their
disagreement, and make sure each party clearly understands the viewpoint
of the other. Often, simply having each employee say her problems aloud
to the other (rather than sharing surreptitious snide comments with
co-workers) forces each of them to clearly see her own role in the
conflict. Allow each party to express her point of view. (Make clear
that respect for all co-workers is required.) Explore and discuss
potential solutions and alternatives. Agree on a plan that meets the
needs of all parties. Monitor the situation and follow up.

Also keep in mind that many conflicts arise
because employees’ roles and responsibilities have not been clearly
defined. Make sure every employee has a job description and has a
regularly scheduled performance review.

—S.A. Donovan,

Integrated Regional Laboratories

Miami, FL

A Squabbles between
co-workers are inevitable. Put a group of people together in a busy lab
for more than 40 hours a week and hostilities over a can of Coke missing
from the refrigerator or constant cellphone chatter are bound to flare

Usually minor disagreements blow over with little or
no intervention by the supervisor. But sometimes a slight disagreement can
spiral out of control, so be aware of the situation at all times. When the
argument affects job performance, it is time to step in. Two employees at
odds can affect the entire department. Productivity drops, co-workers take
sides, teamwork is hampered, and morale falls, so it is important to address
the issue before it influences the entire team.

Your facility may have a policy in place through
the human resources (HR) department that addresses this type of issue,
so HR is a logical first point of contact. Depending on the outcome of
the inquiry to HR, you may need to address the issue with the two
employees within your department.

First, arrange a meeting with the two employees
away from the rest of the staff. Explain that you have called them
together to resolve the conflict, because it is having an adverse affect
on others in the department. Tell the employees that they must work
together to create solutions. Have each person explain his perspective
and then listen to the other person’s perspective on the situation. Ask
what it would take to resolve the conflict and what each employee is
willing to contribute. Once each has offered some reasonable solutions,
you should officially record (in writing or in some electronic format)
the plan of action and the desirable outcome; then hold them

Change may not happen overnight, but revisit the
issue with each employee periodically to make sure each is following
through on the conflict-resolution action plan. If you do not see
progress in a reasonable period of time, your next step may call for
formal disciplinary action.

Many people in supervisory positions have had
little training in managing conflict, so dealing with these situations
can be daunting. But the worst thing you can do is ignore disruptive
disagreements, because these kind of unresolved conflicts tend to
escalate. For supervisors who find themselves excessively uncomfortable
with these types of situations, it may be beneficial to invest in
conflict-control courses or using a mediator.

Rodriguez, MT(ASCP)

LAB Consulting Services

Los Angeles, CA

Bottom line: When dealing
with employee conflicts, make sure to do as the experts suggest
above. In addition, be careful not to show favoritism due to
personal friendships. Such actions can ruin a manager’s reputation.
As supervisors mature off the bench into management positions, staff
may test the allegiance of a new manager.

Anne Pontius is a senior medical practice
consultant with State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Co. in Brentwood, TN,
and president of CLMA. Send questions to Ms. Pontius at
[email protected].