Employee grudges can derail productivity and spread negativity. Here’s how you can help them work things out – and what to do if they can’t.

Holding grudges at work can diminish productivity, poison the atmosphere and increase turnover. It’s important to try to resolve these issues and prevent new ones from arising.

Here are seven steps you can take as a manager or leader to help resolve employee grudges. You can also use these tactics when you must intervene in employee conflicts or have workplace grudges of your own to work on.

1. Assume everyone has good intentions.

When you and your team approach conflicts with the mindset that everyone is trying to do the best they can, your employees can focus on solving the problem instead of on feeling wronged.

For example, an employee who always comes in late or who doesn’t turn in their work on time may leave other employees feeling stressed.

In that kind of situation, it’s easy to hold a grudge and take the other person’s unreliability personally. However, most of us don’t deliberately set out to perform poorly at work or annoy co-workers, so leading with that is likely to upset and embarrass the offending employee.

It’s more effective to approach the conflict with the mindset that there’s a problem that needs addressing so that person can perform better. For example, the employee who’s turning in work late may need some extra training and support to get up to speed on your workplace technology or practices.

2. Start a conversation, even when it’s hard.

Usually when there’s a conflict between two employees, one of them is more bothered by the issue than the other. You can start by encouraging that person to have an open and honest conversation with their co-worker about what’s troubling them.

It might be helpful to offer the employee some talking points to help start the conversation. For example, they could open with, “This might be a bit of an uncomfortable conversation and I’m not 100% sure I know how to go about this, but I want to talk to you about something.”

Acknowledging the discomfort and admitting they’re uncertain about how to solve the problem can make it easier for the other employee to sympathize and feel less threatened by the conversation.

3. Make room for different perspectives.

Everyone has their own perspective on what’s happening at work. When we’re upset or feel strongly about a situation, it’s tempting to assume that our perspective is the only correct one.

If you can encourage your employees to present feedback and concerns from their own perspective, instead of as the absolute truth of the situation, it can leave the door open for input from the other employee to help resolve the grudge.

4. Help employees manage their perceptions of situations.

Employee grudges sometimes arise when someone doesn’t understand why one of their co-workers has extra flexibility in their schedule or seems to get time off even during busy times. What may seem like preferential treatment to co-workers might be an accommodation for an employee who’s living with a chronic illness or caring for a family member.

If the employee has chosen not to share that personal information with their co-workers, and those co-workers complain, it’s important to resolve the issue without breaking confidentiality.

For example, you might say, “I can’t share their private details, but we’re working with this employee to accommodate a need that they have. I’d do the same for you. Please don’t hesitate to come talk with me if you’re ever in a situation where you have a particular need.”

5. Choose the right setting for difficult discussions.

No one likes to be called out in front of other people, and it’s uncomfortable for others who witness the discussion, too. When your employees have a grievance with each other, suggest a place for their conversation that’s not too public – a conference room, a café or a virtual chat.

For example, maybe you have a new team member who seems to be struggling but won’t ask for help, and it’s causing problems for the rest of the team. You might:

  • Invite that new employee to lunch.
  • Share your perspective that they seem to be having trouble finding their feet.
  • Then ask what you can do to help.

By creating some privacy around a difficult conversation, framing it as your perspective and asking the employee what they need, you can make it easy for the other person to open up about what they need to be successful.

6. Step in when employees need help to solve the conflict.

When two employees have tried to work out a grudge by themselves but can’t, or if the process breaks down on one side, it’s time for intervention and coaching. At that point, it’s important to let both parties know that even if they can’t agree with each other’s point of view – or if one employee doesn’t think there’s a problem – they still need to change their behavior.

The goal with this intervention should be to solve the problem and move on, not to get bogged down in arguing over whose perception of the situation is correct. If this conversation doesn’t resolve the issue, it’s time to talk with your HR department about next steps.

7. Build a culture that reduces employee grudges.

All these practices can help resolve employee grudges that already exist. Over the long term, you can prevent some conflict on your team by fostering a healthy group dynamic. When your employees have common goals, respect for each other’s strengths and the mindset that everyone wants to do well, they’re more likely to give each other some grace and offer support when things are difficult.

If you’d like more helpful strategies for handling tricky employee behavior issues, download our free e-book: A practical guide to managing difficult employees.