SHRM All Things Work

Myrna Maysonet on New Best Practices for Managing Employee Conflict

Episode Summary

Conflict among employees is inevitable when humans work side-by-side, and it often results in lower productivity and weakened workplace morale. In this episode of All Things Work, host Tony Lee speaks with Myrna Maysonet, chief diversity officer at the law firm Greenspoon Marder LLP, about best practices for reducing conflict among co-workers.

Episode Notes

Conflict among employees is inevitable when humans work side-by-side, and it often results in lower productivity and weakened workplace morale. In this episode of All Things Work, host Tony Lee speaks with Myrna Maysonet, chief diversity officer at the law firm Greenspoon Marder LLP, about best practices for reducing conflict among co-workers.

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This episode of All Things Work is sponsored by UKG.

Episode transcript

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1:                    This episode is sponsored by UKG. UKG offers HR, payroll, and workforce management solutions that support your employees to help make your fairytale workplace a reality.

Tony Lee:                      Welcome to All Things Work, a podcast from the Society for Human Resource Management. I'm your host, Tony Lee, head of content here at SHRM. Thanks for joining us. All things work as an audio adventure where we talk with thought leaders and taste makers to bring you an insider's perspective on All Things Work. Now, today we are discussing employee conflict, the inevitable side effect of human beings working side by side every business day. We all know that employee conflicts can be a huge distraction at work, leading to reduced productivity and lower morale, but they can also be very time-consuming. In fact, employees and managers spend an average of 4.3 hours a week dealing with conflict according to a global research study conducted last year by the Myers-Briggs Company. The survey found that 36% of employees said they deal with workplace conflict either often or all of the time. Joining us today to talk about this issue is Myrna Maysonet, Chief Diversity Officer and partner at Law Firm Greenspoon Marder LLP based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Myrna, welcome to All Things Work.

Myrna Maysonet:         Great. Thank you for having me here. I'm really excited.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah, we're thrilled to have you too. So, the survey I mentioned revealed that the three most common causes of employee conflict are poor communication, lack of role clarity, and heavy workloads, and that employees who spend more hours dealing with conflicts are also more likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs than those who spend less time handling conflict. Does any of that surprise you?

Myrna Maysonet:         Not at all. If you were to ask me what the pillars of failures in operations are, I would tell you those three factors.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah. So let's talk about them a little bit. Why those three? Let's start with poor communication. How does that lead to conflict?

Myrna Maysonet:         Well, people have to have two things. They have to have expectations, and they have to have open communication. And when you have poor communication, you achieve neither. So it's very important that the managers know what is expected of them and that the employees do know what is expected of them. So when you don't have that communication, then you don't know whether they're doing the job or they're not doing the job, or if they understood the assignment. We cannot assume that everybody understands us, but not everybody has that kind of relationships. So you as a manager have to ensure that everybody on your team understands what is needed and that you are communicating appropriately to them because not everybody is going to understand you or your eccentricities. So it's very important that communication is a two-way street and everybody knows what the expectations are.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah. Now I guess the same goes for role clarity. If two people think their job is the same as the other, there's going to be conflict, right?

Myrna Maysonet:         Well, yes, and that actually brings about a lot of issues that we see. You have issues of nepotism or favoritism, and that actually comes with that. What is my role and am I working under the role that I have or am I undertaking roles that are not assigned to me? And is the manager managing and ensuring that everybody's playing their role? That has a great impact on the operation and fairness, to be honest with you as well.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah, no, that makes sense. And then I guess the third, heavy workload, when everybody's stressed, everybody's angry at one another, right? So it's just balancing workloads?

Myrna Maysonet:         Well, yes, and it goes to the fairness. People want to work in a fair place, and what I see too much is that people who are very responsible end up taking a lot of the slack because there are people who are irresponsible or people who are very difficult to work with, and sometimes a squeaky wheel gets the oil to the detriment of the people that are doing the work. And that creates a lot of unbalance, like everything in life, you have to have a strong foundation. If you overwork the people that are really doing the work, they're simply just not going to feel that they're part of it or they're respect, and then they're just going to go.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah, no, it makes sense. So one of the sad parts of employee conflict to me, I guess, is that it often leads to discriminatory behavior by other employees to one another. So is having a written anti-discrimination policy and documented reporting procedures the best way to address that kind of behavior?

Myrna Maysonet:         Well, I'm going to be a lawyer and tell you, it depends. You can have the most perfect policy. Every employer should have an anti discrimination policy and standards of conduct and procedures about communications and expectations. But that all goes to the wayside if you ignore them. And candidly, the anti-discrimination policy is there to be a guide. 99% of the problems that you have are not really going to fall in illegal discrimination. They're going to fall into what the court calls not a civility code where we have to be nice to everybody and typical work gripes.

                                    So having a policy is required for you to comply with the law and have some semblance of normalcy. But it comes down to actions. How are you managing your people? What messages are you sending with your actions and your words? Because candidly, nobody's reading the employee manual. Nobody's looking at the paper policies. They're looking at what's happening, who's getting scheduled, who's not getting scheduled, who's getting overtime, who's not getting overtime, who's being disrespectful? Those things are what you really need to control of. Now, that's not to say that policies are not important, policies are very important, but they're useless if you don't enforce them.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah. So I think the environments have a lot to do with it too. You have frontline workers who are in a very different environment than say, salaried employees who are working remotely, for example. So let's talk about that for a minute. You would think that people who work remotely wouldn't have as many conflicts because they're not actually in each other's face, but that's not really true, right? You're seeing workplace conflict among remote employees.

Myrna Maysonet:         Oh, yeah. I think that's actually one of the things that I've seen after COVID, the issue of conflict between remote employees and non-remote employees or even remote employees among themselves, the employment is a microcosm of society, and as things break down, sometimes they are reflected in the workplace. And we are seeing a lot more volatile behavior than we saw prior to COVID because a lot of the foundations have broken down and there's been a lot of issues with mental health, and some people are just having emotional breakdowns or just temper tantrums.

                                    I do have kids, I have identical twins, and they're six. And candidly, sometimes I don't know whether I'm talking to my kids or I'm talking to adults throwing a temper tantrum because I've seen the same behavior. And this is across the spectrum, even with other lawyers, we're seeing that more often. So the fact that you're remote doesn't mean that there's not going to be problems. But again, 99% of the issues that we have goes back to management. If you as a manager are not managing things properly and fairly, not micromanaging, but managing the situation and you leave it or you overreact, there's going to be an action and there's going to be consequences to it.

Tony Lee:                      All right. Well, let's dive right into that then. So let's talk about how managers can minimize conflict on their team. So where should they start? A lot of managers haven't been managing a long time and may not have skills in this area. So what would you suggest?

Myrna Maysonet:         Well, I think fairness is the first part. When you are talking to employees or when you are heading in and doing the investigations, I hear a lot of things, this is not fair, the rules are supposed to be this, but so-and-so is doing this, and they don't say anything. So the perception of fairness is very important. It's okay to be a strong manager and demanding manager as long as you're a fair manager. So you have to have rules. You have to have policies, attendance policies, whatever policies, performance policies, but you have to follow them all the time, not when it's convenient for you, not when it has to do with somebody that you dislike, but you let your friend get away with it. And you have to understand that this is not a social environment. I do know, and I understand, and I acknowledge that we spend more time at work sometimes that we spend with our families, but we have to have expectations and roles.

                                    And I think a lot of things that when I see a lot of problems is that roles have bled into each other where there's no recognition of what your role is. So for example, if you're the boss and you guys go out and drink margaritas every third day and get drunk and engage in behavior that is probably not appropriate. I'm not saying it's illegal but not appropriate, and then you try to be the boss the next day, that's going to cause conflict, A, with the people that don't go, and B, with the people that go. So you have to have rules, and you have to make sure that everybody knows their expectations as what the roles are being. And you have to be accountable for your actions. You cannot let things slide and then have a bad day. And we see this all the time.

                                    The managers try to be friendly and try to be friends, and people come in late, people do stuff and nothing is done. And one day the manager comes in very upset, and on that day, everybody's head is taken off, he's writing everybody, and he wants to fire everybody. And that kind of inconsistent behavior in application of rules, it leads to morale issues. So first you start with a manager, and then you make sure you have the rules and then you try to implement those rules in an objective and fair manner. Easier said than done, but it can be done and it's possible, but it takes time. You have to have a lot of patience and you can't take things personally. So those are the kind of things that I always said, be objective, be fair, and set expectations not only for yourself, but for others.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah. And being consistent. Sounds like that's really pretty critical. So I don't want to put it all on managers. HR certainly has a role here. So at what point should HR get involved? Should they be communicating to managers? Look, as soon as you have a conflict that you're uncomfortable with, bring us in. And what would you suggest there?

Myrna Maysonet:         So a good hallmark of HR is to know what's going on. An effective HR is never going to be in the office just sitting there and be a paper pusher. You cannot be a good HR if you don't know what's going on. So you should have your ear to the ground. You should know what's going on, you should know about the operations. You should know about the policies and the expectations, and you should have an open door where people want to talk to you.

                                    Now you are a liaison with a manager. Your job is not to impose operational decisions. Your job is to help those who are doing operational decisions. So I would think that when conflict arise, if you see it, you engage it, if not, make sure that people have the ability to come and talk to you and you can interfere. The good HRs save 99% of the lawsuits because they see the problem and they resolve the problem when people's feelings are hurt, which is how many of these things start, somebody feels slighted or somebody's being attacked or discriminated, and they come in and they report it, and HR does a good job resolving the situation, 99% of the times you're not going to see a lawsuit.

Tony Lee:                      And I imagine HR does spend time trying to train managers on how to be better managers and how to resolve employee conflict. Do you think they're doing enough of that?

Myrna Maysonet:         I think HR has to work with management and they have to understand their role. And yes, I think they need to train the managers because the managers are going to be the first line of defense, and they need to learn to spot the red flags, when somebody needs ADA or we should be talking about accommodations when somebody may need FMLA, when there are things that need to address. Those are managers dealing with that every single day. So HR needs to train them so they can spot the problems and bring them up because sometimes you're not going to know until it's too late.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah, no, good points. So we're painting employee conflict pretty negatively, but there are instances where conflict is actually a good thing, right? Healthy conflict. So from your view, what does healthy conflict look like?

Myrna Maysonet:         As a Chief Diversity Officer, I'm going to change my hat, but to have diversity within your ranks creates innovation. It lets you find out the experiences and other points of views that you'll not have. So when you have diversity in thought and experience, then you're going to have sometimes what appears to be conflict, but turns out to be actually a betterment of the team, an expansion and innovation that you won't see before. Because if you have an echo chamber, then you're not productive. And obviously this depends on where you work and what you do. There's certain jobs that are more formalized and they're check the boxes and that's what you do. But there's some other jobs that require a lot more input and creativity, and those jobs require more diversity of thought.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah, no, absolutely. One other area I want to ask you about, there have been a lot of discussions about workplaces, remote hybrid, in-person, and that has created some conflict because you have some employees who are in every single day and others who for whatever reason come in once a week, twice a week, and fairness becomes an issue. We seem to see hybrid taking over as kind of the primary solution, especially for salaried employees. Where do you think this is falling and what impact is it going to have on conflict moving forward?

Myrna Maysonet:         Well, that's really an interesting question, and it is a consequence of COVID. Before there were remote jobs, for example, if you were a lawyer, you don't have to be in your office to be able to do your job. So there's certain professions that were already suited for that change. When COVID came, then a lot of people that not necessarily were used to customer service of doing their job remotely, now you can do those jobs, but there's still a fair number of jobs that have to be in person. Hotel jobs, restaurant jobs, bakeries, you have to be in person. So I think what we're finding out is that in order for us to retain the best people, we will have to adjust those issues dealing with remote work. There are people that are telling you that they're not going to work for you unless they're remotely done.

                                    If that is something that you can afford and you want to go with it, do it. There's some employees, and I do share part of this is that sometimes you need to be in the office because you still need the communication. It's very difficult to mentor people remotely. And we are seeing a lot of people that feel isolated, they're not part of the team, you have a lot of activities that you do that they're missing out. So as an employer, you have to look at the operation and see, well, what things can be done remotely? Do we need hybrids? And obviously you set the terms and conditions of employment. So you decide what is best for your company and whether you can still attract the best qualified people. It's so much more difficult to resolve conflict when people are remotely. When you have people working together, I don't know if you remember, [inaudible] we work together, we're just going to have to get along because we're going to see each other.

                                    And it's funny because now we do mediation, and when we were in COVID, we were forced to do mediation remotely. And it was really hard because it's very easy to push click and let your emotions overcome you and you don't have that sense of having to work it out because you're in the same building. It's much more difficult to see people in person. And we see this [inaudible] our society used to be that if somebody is going to bully you, they had to do it in person and they have to push back. And sometimes you push back.

                                    Now somebody can sit behind a laptop and bully you. So I think that we have to find a good balance where we have the people still communicate with each other because there's value in that and working together than having somebody completely remote or completely in person. So I think for conflict, we're going to have to find a balance. What that balance is, it depends on your operation, but I think you need a combination because I do see more conflict with people working remotely, and much more difficult in resolving the conflicts because it's very easy to just detach and stew and not really face a problem when you are in a building working together.

Tony Lee:                      Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Myrna. That is going to do it for today's episode of All Things Work. A big thank you to Myrna Maysonet for sharing her insights on managing employee conflicts. Before we get out of here, I want to encourage everyone to follow all things work wherever you listen to your podcast. Also, listener reviews have a real impact on our podcast visibility. So if you enjoyed today's episode, please take a moment to leave a review and help others find the show. Finally, you can find all of our episodes on our website at Thanks for listening, and we'll catch you next time on All Things Work.

Speaker 1:                    Every leader wants their employees to live and work happily ever after. Thankfully, you don't need a magic wand or a fairy godmother to make that dream come true. HR, payroll, and workforce management solutions from UKG give you the tools you need to support and celebrate all of your people. Now you can make your fairytale workplace a reality with UKG.