External and internal forces create conflict for employees within the workplace. With a struggling economy and ever increasing prices for gas, food, utilities, and other commodities, these external stresses place conflict on employees' home lives. Employees bring those external conflicts to work. These external stresses also place tough economic conditions on employers. Employees feel employer workplace burdens too. Fear, gossip and rumors of reductions in the workforce, downsizing due to changing technology and foreign trade, closures, reductions in hours worked with the loss of benefits, and loss of business creates unrest and instability for both employers and employees. Even those employees who are lucky enough to keep their jobs during an economic downturn are tasked with heavy workloads to make up for the reductions in the workforce and scarce resources. Companies are forced to do more with less.
The external forces intensify with a stressed economy and normal internal forces are a fact of operating a business. Supervisor/employee tensions, safety issues, pay equality, personality clashes between employees, different interests and values among workers, poor communication, and top down lack of communication are some internal factors that influence employee workplace conflict. Employees internally feel undervalued, underpaid and left with a dismal outlook for the future. The question is how can we maintain a cohesive work environment while managing all this conflict?

As business owners we cannot control the external factors facing the economy and our employees. The economy is a national conflict out of our control. What we can do is minimize the gossip and rumors within our companies therefore reducing some fear among our employees. Communication is the key factor, and top down communication is the best method. Never promise things that are speculative or unknown and base your communication on facts. In almost all instances it is better to know the truth even if it means "bad news". Employees can process that information and join together in one thought to solve problems or help one another overcome the fear. When you are managing a diverse group of people you will always have conflicting opinions, but when you communicate one truthful message it is much more difficult for everyone to twist the truth.
Some suggestions to help maintain a cohesive work environment are:
  • Develop solid policies and procedures (reporting off, lunch and break periods, vacation, benefits, sick time) and administer all policies the same across the board, with no deviation.
  • Train your managers and supervisors on effective communication.
  • Establish an "expected behavior" policy among all employees, write it and publish it in your company.
  • Develop goal setting for all levels of employees.
  • Do not micromanage your employees, stress freedom within established guidelines.
  • Develop a policy for issue resolution; give employees the steps to follow to resolve any issue.
  • Finally provide your employees with a wealth of information, develop car pooling, provide information on energy savings in the office and at home, suggest coupon exchanges, provide assistance numbers for free legal, counseling services, self help programs. The more information you provide the more employees can help themselves.
While we cannot avoid conflict, we can try to minimize it and provide a cohesive work environment.