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Your HR questions: How to manage conflict within the practice team

Employment lawyer Susan Bernstein answers a question about how to deal with a situation when two members of staff don't get along.

Speak to each member of staff individually (Picture: iStock)
Speak to each member of staff individually (Picture: iStock)

Q: We have two staff members of our reception team who don’t get along and have stopped speaking to one another. It causes an atmosphere in reception as the other staff feel uncomfortable. I have spoken to them both, but they say there isn’t a problem. I’m not sure what to do next?

A: Interpersonal conflict causing disharmony in the workplace can inflict a lot of negative effects.  You have two staff members, who are not speaking to each other for whatever reason is bubbling under the surface. As a result, they are unlikely to be concentrating fully on their job, may be suffering from stress and cannot collaborate and work effectively as part of the reception team.

This, in turn, will cause a lot of gossiping, backbiting and dissatisfaction from other members of the team, which can weaken trust, de-motivate the team and cause morale to nose dive.  

In addition, if the reception team is suffering from low morale, the negative atmosphere will filter through to the rest of the staff generally and if the negativity persists over a long period, it may well cause some employees to leave the practice and complain to people outside the practice, which can damage its public image.

Speak to them individually

You have already spoken to them both and they say there isn’t a problem but you know that this is not true.  In the circumstances, you need to speak to them again, individually this time.

Say to each of them that although they told you that there wasn’t a problem, there very much is a problem because by not speaking to each other their ability to do their job properly is affected and it is having a knock on negative effect on the whole reception team and on other staff too.

In the circumstances, you must take command and explain that you do not intend to leave things as they are and will make every effort to resolve the situation through communication.  However, this requires their co-operation.   

It may need to be spelt out to them that if they are not prepared to recognise that there is a problem or co-operate in trying to resolve it then you will have no alternative but to go through a capability procedure with them as their behaviour is affecting their performance as team members.  However, you should tell them that you would hope that this will not be necessary.  

You should then give them another chance to explain why they are not speaking to each other. You may find that there is a simple explanation that has escalated but it may be more serious. For example, one of them might be bullying the other in some way.

When to use disciplinary procedures

Once you know the cause, you are in a better position to deal with the situation and hopefully mediating between them will suffice. However, if there is any element of bullying or other misconduct it should be dealt with through your practice’s formal disciplinary procedure.

The message must be clear that the practice has a job to look after the health of its patients as best it can with the resources available and there is an expectation that everybody in the practice will pull their weight and share that vision. The practice cannot afford to tolerate workplace disharmony and that’s that.

Send us your questions

If you have a HR or employment law question, please email emma.bower@haymarket.com and we will try to answer this for you.

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