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This week’s featured HR expert is Lacey Partipilo.
One of our employees recently reported concerns about a colleague. It sounds like the situation hasn’t escalated yet, but we are worried it might if we don’t do something now. What do you recommend? Should we investigate the concerns quietly or go to the colleague mentioned and ask them about the incident?
Responding swiftly and objectively to workplace concerns is an important part of managing a diverse and growing workforce. Each company is made up of many people with different personalities, viewpoints, backgrounds, and cultures, so workplace conflict is something many employers have to address.
In this scenario, you have the opportunity to address the issue proactively. Knowing something occurred but hasn’t yet escalated gives the employer the opportunity (and, really, the responsibility) to ensure all parties are comfortable.
I recommend starting by getting specific details from the employee who has concerns. Thank them for bringing the issue forward, and encourage them to continue to keep communication open as you investigate. Find out where and when the incident occurred, what was said or done, and who might have been around when it happened. When you have all the details, you can ensure you understand not only what happened but the context in which it happened, too.
After you have gathered information from the employee who has concerns, I recommend meeting with the employee they had issues with. It’s important to give both parties the chance to share their experience. Keep in mind that this process can be incredibly uncomfortable, and some people may react strongly and negatively when they find out they’ve been reported. You and other managers should monitor for retaliation any time an employee comes forward with a concern about a fellow employee. You can also remind both parties of your no retaliation policy and provide examples of what retaliation can look like.
Once you have enough information from both employees to determine what happened, you can decide on the most appropriate response. Sometimes the employee with concerns just wants to feel heard. Sometimes it will be best to take action based on misconduct or violation of the company’s policies. Sometimes mediating a conversation between the employees, so they can each see where the other is coming from, can be helpful. Regardless of the action you choose to take, it’s critical that you’re diligent and prompt throughout the process.
These issues are never easy, and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to resolving workplace conflict. Reach out to your HR resources when these issues come up, even if the problem hasn’t escalated or doesn’t seem egregious to you.