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Employee Conflicts: Don't Choose Sides

By Rayan Omer


The negative impact of the pandemic not only hit people financially, but also on a personal level. Conflicts are arising between employees from misconceptions about the spread of the Coronavirus. President Trump called the Covid-19 virus the “Chinese Virus.” These statements would create conflict between employees who mistreat people from China or Asian descent, thinking that working with them might cause infection or blaming them for a virus that they had no hand in creating. Besides, the issues arising from the lack of understanding about the illness, the conflict could also show up because employees are reluctant to return to work, fearful of their health from COVID-19.

A report shared by the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON) and the Chinese for Affirmative Actions (CAA) shows data of discrimination and abuse that Asian Americans experienced as a result of Covid-19.

Additionally, the stress at home, in dealing with this unprecedented time, could lead people to be less patient with each other, which results in a misunderstanding between workers. For more information about COVID-19's adverse effects on Asians, visit Shelby Matsumura's article on PSA: Public Enemy Number One Is COVID-19, Not Asians.

Dealing with such conflicts in big companies is typically dealt with by the HR department. But, when these issues arise in a small business, owners must take the primary lead to resolve them wisely and quickly. Usually, small businesses are close-knit because they are low in staff numbers . The need for workers to get along with each other is critical in these environments.

Employers feel the same way about their employees. According to Small Biz Daily, a survey showed that small business owners would bend over backward for their employees, remember their employees’ birthdays, kids and pets names and, even attend their weddings. 

Solving those disputes arising from the pressure of the Coronavirus and the lack of social support is vital to small businesses. Here are eight ways to deal with conflicts between employees caused by COVID-19.

1) Listen to your employees

People tend to ignore conflict or tough conversations. They think time heals everything. But, as mentioned above, it’s hard to ignore issues between staff because it might be so apparent that customers notice the tension amongst your team. Additionally, it affects your business tremendously when your staff is not happy with where they are. According to NCBI, employees in the United States spend 2.8 hours per week on workplace conflict, resulting in $359 billion in lost time.

They say, “we have two ears and one mouth,” indicating that we should listen more than we talk. That’s why it’s imperative to listen to your employees' worries. Take them aside individually and let them share their concern. By vocalizing their issues, it helps clarify the real reason behind the conflict, therefore enabling resolution. Otherwise, it would be like asking someone to take you somewhere, but you don’t know where you are going!


By listening, I don’t mean the usual way people listen. We tend to formulate an answer while the other person is still talking. By doing so, we are not actively listening, nor are we able to express empathy. You must put yourself in their shoes to understand what they are saying. Adrienne Isakovic, a lecturer in Northeastern University’s Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication program, said “It’s something we’re all guilty of in emotionally charged situations: As the other person is talking, we’re already preparing what we’re going to say in response,” Isakovic says. “You need to actively listen, and even if it takes you 30 seconds after they have finished talking to respond, that’s fine.”

When your employees feel heard, they also feel valued by you and your company. This bond establishes more loyal workers, which is critical for your business’ success and stability.

2) Train your managers

Maybe your company’s operations were running smoothly before the Coronavirus pandemic started, which means your managers might not have dealt with similar conflicts before. Therefore, inexperienced managers might ignore the issue or accidentally worsen the situation. 

To avoid any layers of added misunderstanding beneath the surface, a small business owner should train their managers. Leaders, not followers, must run your company. Managerial skills are paramount when it comes to handling tough situations and resolving issues efficiently.

As Stuart Hearn, the CEO of Clear Review, said, “managers may not have the skills to be able to deal with conflict. They should be trained to follow processes, so they can deal with conflict before it escalates.

Managers need to know specific policies to follow when conflict arises. Train your managers to engage in active listening, express empathy, work towards the outcome, and tackle the issue instead of the person.

By paving the way for your managers in dispute resolution, you save time and energy in resolving issues quickly.

3) Mediation

Bringing a neutral third party to the table allows conflicting parties to explore their options in resolving the dispute. Some people might think it's an unnecessary expense. But, losing valuable employees in a small business is devastating to the company. Mediators can be from within the industry, trained in conflict management, or they can be external professionals without any conflict of interest with the employer. Regardless of how the employer chooses the mediator, it should be clear to the parties that alternative dispute resolutions are voluntary.

Additionally, there are other types of alternative dispute resolutions, for example, having a facilitator or an arbitrator resolve the conflict.

4) Company’s mission

Talking about the company’s values and mission helps employees get back on track by thrusting the company’s vision back into perspective when workers conflict. For example, some of your company’s values could be having diversity, being open-minded, and honest. Reminding your employees of the company’s core mission helps employees connect. 

Furthermore, by knowing the company's goal, every employee would know what their job entails and learn not to overstep on someone else's boundaries. “Do as I say, not as I do.” If this statement doesn’t work on kids, it sure won’t be productive with your employees. That’s why it’s essential to lead by example.

5) Lead by example 

What we see and hear around us affects us tremendously. If you hang out around negative people, you soon become one of them. Your employees are also affected by what their employer does. If you handle conflict in a hostile manner, such as calling employees out in public or not being fair, don’t expect your workers to handle issues any differently. Hence, this is the environment they have lived in and nourished upon. Workers spend long hours at work, so the environment around them affects your employees internally. 

Be open with your employees and admit to your mistakes. “ The buck stops here.” President Harry S. Truman kept a sign on his desk that reminded him to take responsibility for his errors and not criticize others for it. Blaming others doesn’t show your leadership skills or that you take responsibility for your actions. Additionally, it makes employees fearful of making a mistake because no one is admitting their shortcomings. To allow growth in your company, you must show your employees the qualities you want to see.

6) Develop employee relationships 

Team building is critical, and it enhances productivity, creativity, and collaboration between employees.

In these unprecedented times of the Coronavirus, shelter-at-home orders, and financial strains, team building activities would strengthen your team's relationship. This strengthening would improve communication and trust between your co-workers. Team development is a proactive way of solving conflicts before they occur. 

It’s easier to assume bad intentions from strangers, but it’s harder when the lousy act is coming from someone you know or trust. An employee would be more understanding of his colleague’s mistake instead of judging them. 

The essence of developing strong employee relations is creating a culture built on mutual respect, trust and fairness. Rome was not built in a day; it takes time, effort and money to establish such an environment. But, reaching that foundation in your company fosters employees' high performance and motivation. It creates loyalty because workers feel appreciated and valued in your business. For more information about developing employee relations, check out the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Finally, allow your employees the space to work out their issues individually without much intervention. As mentioned, provide your employees with sufficient training, for example, include conflict resolution in the new hire orientation. Define what’s acceptable and unacceptable behavior in your company. Teach your employees, practice and repeat those needed skills in alternative dispute resolutions. Take the extra step and follow up with your workers after the problem is solved.

7) Take each complaint seriously

Give your full attention to complaints even if they seem minor to you. If those concerns are not addressed, it breaks the trust and respect employees have for you as a leader. Simple jokes could lead to discrimination claims between the employees and affect your company. Some employees might copy the President and call the Coronavirus the “Chinese virus” or assume they got infected solely because they are around an Asian colleague. That’s why it’s critical to take every complaint seriously and resolve the issue before it gets escalated.

8) Keep it confidential

Conflict is like a snowball; it gets bigger as it rolls to more people. When people talk of issues, they usually add their own variation to it. That’s why it’s crucial to keep it as quiet as possible. Any employee, who is not tangled in this situation, shouldn’t be involved.

If your employees come to you for a confidential matter, make it clear to them that you cannot guarantee 100 percent confidentiality. Because depending on what they disclose, it might be critical for you to take action and not just listen to them.

The disclosure sometimes requires further investigation. Use your workers’ complaints to find witnesses and obtain more facts on what has happened. A good leader must not act based on one side alone; every story has two sides. A general approach to protect the employees involved in the complaint, is to provide feedback to the employees about their offensive behavior without providing names. But, as I mentioned above, it’s critical to verify the accusations before acting upon them. I like a saying that says in every situation there is my side, your side and the truth.

In summary, investing in conflict resolution training is the most valuable investment you can make in your company. As mentioned previously, companies spend 2.8 hours per week on workplace conflict, resulting in $359 billion in lost time. Additionally, small business owners risk losing star employees because the workers voices weren’t heard in the conflict. Lastly, potential discrimination lawsuits might be heading your way if it’s related to the issue between the conflicted employees. 


Are you interested in launching or sustaining a pandemic proof small business? Spot issues, take action, stay safe, and thrive in a post Covid-19 world with Legalucy. Learn more at

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