Each Monday, BND staff writer Brittney M. Helmrich will answer your questions about careers, leadership, office life and social media in her advice column, "Dear Brittney." Got a professional problem you just can't figure out? Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Dear Brittney" to have your questions featured.
Some members of my team get along with each other better than others. I often see personal rifts form, but they don't appear to hurt anyone's job performance. As their supervisor, should I get involved in their personal relationships, or just let them work it out?
- Boss or Bystander?
Dear Boss or Bystander,
In an ideal world, everyone would get along swimmingly, but unfortunately that's just not the case. It's normal for some members of your team to have personal differences with others, but it's not normal — or professional — for them to let it become an issue in the office. Based on your question, I can't really tell just how bad these rifts are, but clearly they're bad enough to get your attention and cause some concern, at the very least.
These personal issues may not seem to be affecting your employees' performance on the job, but that doesn't mean they're not affecting your employees. Depending on the situation, some of your employees could be feeling left out, or even be victims of harassment. Maybe the quality of their work isn't suffering under these circumstances, but their happiness — in and out of the office — might be affected. And as the boss, you'll want to make sure your employees are comfortable coming to work every day, just as much as you want them to be doing their best work.
I don't know the specific circumstances of these issues, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach for conflicts, so I'm not sure I can give you a hard-and-fast answer to solve the problems on your staff. Rather, my advice to you is to feel it out.
You're obviously intuitive enough to know what's going on, so use that to your advantage. Pay attention to the problems and how your employees are interacting with one another. Note whether or not certain employees have a bad attitude or are being confrontational with others, or if certain employees appear despondent or left out. If you happen to follow your employees on social media, be aware of any posts that may indicate that they are feeling harassed or uncomfortable in the workplace. You don't have to monitor every tweet, but if you see a post that's concerning, don't ignore it. [See Related Story: Dear Brittney: Can I Be Friends with My Employees?]
Just watch for signs that things aren't as fine as you might think they are, and then decide what your next steps should be. If things are bad and tensions are high, definitely go to HR and discuss your options, since your company's HR staff will likely know the best course of action to take. Even if things seem fine, you may also want to tell the HR department what's going on. That way, in case anything else does happen, you will have a record of these issues.
In the meantime, I think it's important that you remind your employees that your door is always open to anyone who might have concerns. How you do that is up to you — whether you send a team email or speak during a staff meeting — but let them know you're available to talk about any issues that may arise. Hopefully, doing so will help your employees see that they can come to you if they're feeling uncomfortable at work as a result of another employee's behavior. If a problem arises, you can decide what to do from there.
If one or two problem employees are making everyone else uncomfortable, you may need to take action to remove them from the situation — and again, HR can help with that. Or, if your whole staff is in conflict, you may need to have a team meeting to figure everything out and find a resolution. In any case, you have options, but you need to be proactive.
No bad blood? The reality is, not everyone is going to get along. Your employees don't have to be friends, so long as they can maintain professional working relationships and have no issues working together on projects. For now, it doesn't seem to be affecting their productivity, and you may not need to get involved. But just because everything seems fine, doesn't mean you should just tune it all out — things can change, and it can happen faster than you might realize.
As long as you make it a point to pay attention to the details, you can catch things before they get too concerning. It may be that your employees just aren't friends, but everything seems to be fine on a professional level. In that case, it's OK to stay out of it. But if there's malicious behavior going on, you need to step in. As long as you keep an eye out, everything should be fine.