8 Sources of Employee Conflict that You Need to Address Now

Conflict between employees can be good for an organization. Ice cream can be too. In either case, too much of a good thing usually leads to problems.

If you think your organization is plagued by more than its fair share of employee conflict, it’s time to investigate the underlying causes. Sure you might have a few bad apples, but more often than not there are unresolved problems that act as massive conflict generators.

Tackling employee conflicts one-by-one is akin to swatting at mosquitoes. You know that smashing one might provide a psychological boost, but will do very little for your long-term comfort.

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If you want to have a lasting resolutions, you need to tackle the problems that are creating the conflict. Here are eight that are often the root cause of employee conflict.

1. Unclear goals

Are we supposed to do this or that? When people aren’t clear about the objectives, they get nervous. They don’t want to waste their time pursuing the wrong goals, and don’t want to get in trouble for it. Nervousness leads to stress, and stress leads to conflict.

2. Fuzzy processes

Some people are serious about following processes. Not only do they want to follow them, but think others should too. In many instances, that’s exactly what you want. But when the rules aren’t clear, the ambiguity surrounding the right way to do something leads to problems.

3. Undefined authority

Power struggles are a common source of conflict. When authority is not clearly defined, people who think they ought to be in charge go for it. If two or more people think they should be the leader, a fight breaks out over who will have control.

4. Extreme segmentation

More than 25 years ago I worked in an organization that was stuck. Functional silos were creating our problems. If you want to start a fight, divide people up, pit groups against each other, and then see what happens. Instead of drawing more lines, you ought to erase some.

5. Poor modeling by senior leaders

Many execs have moaned to me about all the infighting within their companies. “Why can’t my employees get along?” they ask. Maybe because their leaders are setting a bad example. If you want employees to work together, your executive team better be showing them the way.

6. Scarce resources

You’ve seen the movies. World War III has just ended, and now it’s an eat or be eaten world. They are coming for your stuff, particularly your food. You better be armed and strong to fight them off. When your employees don’t have what they need to succeed, this same sort of survival instinct kicks in. Things get ugly.

7. Favoritism and excessive politics

This is an oldie but a goody. Most people believe in the concept of fairness, unless of course they are the ones getting the good deal. When the politics are out of control, resentment grows. People start taking their frustration out on each other, even those who had nothing to do with creating the problems in the first place.

8. Unmanaged stress

Okay, I’ll admit it. When I’m stressed I will do and say things I wish I had not done or said. And I’m not the only one. If a high percentage of your employees are stressed, you are going to have problems. Work on the stressors, and teach them how to manage their stress. If it’s the latter, I’d be happy to talk with you about my stress management workshops.

There isn’t an organization that doesn’t have at least a few opportunities in this list. Figure out which ones are causing problems in your organization, bring together some smart people, and do something about them.

If things have gotten completely out of hand and you need some help, reach out to me. I am used to coming in, figuring out what’s going on, and offering solutions that restore a productive work environment.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce helps companies change by creating stronger teams, more effective leaders, and better processes. To discuss a challenge you're facing, use this link to schedule a free discovery call.