Does your business suffer from workplace friction?

Does your business suffer from workplace friction?

July 30, 2017

“You say he’s childish, but he’s very professional about business transactions.” – Martin Bashir, British journalist.

It’s bad enough when people are exposed to each other’s shortcomings and bad habits eight to ten hours a day. But what happens when you start to see those same faults and foibles during off hours? The level of disrespect between employees in small businesses has reached an all time high and some experts are pointing to social media as the culprit.

Last year Texas A&M business professor Irwin Horwitz was so frustrated with the performance of the students in his strategic management class, that he told them all in an email he wouldn’t pass any of them and that he was through with them.

“Since teaching this course,” he wrote, “I have caught and seen cheating, been told to ‘chill out,’ ‘get out of my space,’ ‘go back and teach,’ [been] called a ‘fucking moron’ to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself and . . .”

While this sounds more like the experience of a babysitter having to deal with unruly children than a college professor dealing with future business professionals, believe it or not this sort of behavior is not uncommon – and it isn’t limited to classrooms.

The level of disrespect between employers and employees in small businesses has reached an all time high and some experts are pointing to social media as the culprit. Ever hear of the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt”? Because people in small businesses rely so much on each other and work so closely together, they often become so familiar with each other that out of necessity they become friends and that’s when the line between employer and employee starts to blur. It’s bad enough when people are exposed to each other’s shortcomings and bad habits eight to ten hours a day. But what happens when you start to see those same faults and foibles during off hours?

You get something like this:

“That cheap bastard said he couldn’t give me a raise because he had no money. Why is he taking his family on such an expensive vacation?”

“What? No wonder that son-of-a-bitch showed up late to work this morning. He was out drinking with his buddies all night.”

Thanks to social media and Facebook in particular the workplace friction festers and that’s usually when hostilities get out of hand. But workplace conflicts aren’t just limited to employer/employee relationships. As a small business owner, perhaps you have been caught in the childish crossfire of the “He Said, She Said” game.

While much more common than the employer/employee scenario, co-worker resentment and antagonism is much more prevalent and as a small business owner you often find yourself in the roll of being a babysitter than that of a manager.

When you consider that co-workers deal with the same familiarity issues that take place between employer/employee and now you add to it the element of workplace competition, that’s when it can become unstable.

In both scenarios the unnecessary drama that is caused can derail your business, not only by wasting value time in trying to fix something that should never have happened in the first place, but by taking the focus away from productivity.

What to do?

If you ask 10 successful small business owners what they do to avoid scenarios and situations like this, you will most likely get 10 different answers.

So, here are a few tips that you may want to consider:

Compete against the other team, not each other

Some business owners like to manage their employees as if they were coaching a sports team and often time they’ll create competition between co-workers. While that might work for bigger companies, it can backfire on small ones and help breed contempt, especially if one employee is perceived to be the boss’ favorite. Avoid this by handling all of your employees equally in a group setting and instead of creating rivalries between co-workers, focus your energies toward the other businesses you are competing against. It’s okay to manage your employees as if you are coaching a team, but remember, they are all part of the same team. Get them to work on projects together. Think of them as a football team and you are the quarterback calling the plays. Everyone on your team has a job to do and if they do it better than the business you are competing against, your team wins.

Take it behind closed doors

While it’s good to praise your employees equally in front of their peers, when it comes to discipline, make it private. Nobody likes to be criticized in front of others and regardless of your tone or demeanor, when your employee is being punished, he or she will not only be put on the defensive by feeling embarrassed, but he or she may feel as if they are being scolded or berated. Nine times out of 10, taking the conversation behind closed doors not only diffuses a potential confrontational situation, but if an understanding is reached, can become a positive experience for both employer and employee.

Keep your distance

This one might be easier said than done. While it’s okay to be friendly with your employees and even friends with them, you must make sure they understand that at the end of the day they work for you and have a job to do. Be sure to not only set deliverables when it comes to their work, but be sure to set specific boundaries around that personal relationship. Make sure they understand that in the workplace they will not be shown favoritism as it’s very easy for people to take advantage of a situation. If you are friends with one employee and not another, you really need to go out of your way not to show it at work. For example, if you go out to lunch with your “friend” on Monday, be sure to go out to lunch with another employee on Tuesday. Also, don’t let them know too much about your personal life. The best way to avoid workplace drama is don’t feed into it. The less your employees know about you, the better off you’ll be.