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We’d all love our workplaces to run like clockwork, with tight teams, a lively atmosphere and a killer Christmas party, but in the real world there are bound to be clashes of personality or purpose between staff. Polly Allen delves deeper.


Tackle outdated attitudes fast

From the #MeToo campaign to the growing awareness of other types of workplace discrimination, we’re all on high alert for outdated and un-PC attitudes that can lead to formal complaints, performance reviews, disciplinaries and more. But if some of your staff have an edgy or controversial sense of humour, they might not even realise their comments are offensive.

Take the Irish council chairman who suggested a colleague should dye her hair blonde to get noticed in a meeting: he probably thought it was a great joke. But the woman in question, a member of Kerry County Council, didn’t find it funny – she’d already been overlooked twice at the meeting and just wanted her share of speaking time. Several Irish news outlets reported the story, including the Irish Independent, so it generated bad PR as well as bad feeling at the meeting.

With similar risky jokers in your own office, psychiatrist Jody Foster advises the target of the joke should call them out. She told CNBC readers they shouldn’t ‘suck it up’. Whilst the odd flat-falling joke can be smoothed over, let’s consider solutions for repeat offenders. They could potentially be given refreshers in business professionalism or emotional intelligence, either through team-building days or individual sessions, as part of an action plan.

Be realistic about the cause of conflict

A recent UK survey (commissioned to celebrate the DVD release of The Death of Stalin) revealed that 31 per cent of British workers are seeking revenge on their workplace nemesis, and 20 per cent of workers have taken time off because of ‘bad feeling’ in the office. What’s more, 70 per cent of the 1,500 people surveyed said they didn’t trust some of their colleagues. The conclusion? It’s unrealistic to assume your team is miraculously conflict-free.

The survey also revealed the most likely reasons behind workplace clashes: 33 per cent said they were fighting over trying to book the same leave period, 17 per cent were clashing due to salaries, and 13 per cent were rivals for the same job. Whilst healthy competition is great, it’s understandable that emotive issues like precious holiday time and getting the best salary would lead to tension.

To try and resolve these issues and prevent them being problems in the future, make sure your major HR policies are transparent. For example, when it comes to holiday policy, set out whose requests get priority, how far in advance it needs to be agreed, whether regular overtime can mean time off in lieu, and whether you can buy extra days of holiday. Of course, if you have any exciting holiday perks, such as offering staff a day off on their birthday, be sure to shout about them on the company website, as they show your company in a good light and can be used for PR purposes, too.

Keep a calm and work-friendly office for everyone’s benefit

Any unorthodox or notable points about your office culture, such as being dog-friendly or working with an office radio in the background, should be outlined with job seekers at interview stage if you think they might impact a decision to accept or reject a job offer. Candidates might be dealing with allergies or other illnesses that make it difficult to work around an office dog or a constant buzz of noise, and it’s too late to make them aware of these issues on their first day. They may also be afraid to speak up about their problem in a dog-friendly office, for fear of upsetting enthusiastic pet owners.

This does become more complicated if the office disruption is limited to senior staff – for example, a head of department bringing his children into work all day and leaving them unsupervised whenever they have school holidays (as one anonymous co-worker discussed on When it feels like there’s one rule for the boss and one for everyone else, resentment can set in. Even if the issue is happening at a high level, it doesn’t mean you can ignore it in HR, as this clash will have a trickle-down effect on members of staff.

Regular or major disruption is naturally going to affect productivity levels, not to mention morale, and it’s in the whole company’s interests to keep them as high as possible. You don’t need library-style silence all the time, but be empathetic when people come to you complaining they can’t concentrate because of someone else’s behaviour. Put yourself in their shoes, and understand that a calm office gets the best results.

With these tips, you can tackle clashes between staff before they escalate, and maintain a welcoming atmosphere for everyone.

Polly Allen writes for the team at Inspiring Interns, which specialises in graduate recruitment. You’ll also find graduate careers advice, to help you track down the best graduate jobs, on the website.