HeartfeltHR - Jill Aburrow - HR Consultant
Passion for people

The Truth About Employees Who Clash With Colleagues


An employer recently told me that he had difficulty in recruiting people who got on with their colleagues.  He thought it was a recruitment problem and the type of people who applied for the fairly basic, repetitive jobs he had on offer.  The work is boring and so some of the people doing it seem to be unpleasant to others around them.

The next thing is either a complaint from someone, or a disciplinary issue.  Or someone leaves work.

But there are things which we can do as employers to improve this type of situation. And it is worth making the effort. A happy workforce equals improved loyalty. That, in turn, brings increased productivity, growth and profit.


What can an employer do about employees who clash with colleagues?

There will always be people who have an “attitude” problem, or who are just plain nasty.  But there is usually a reason for that and most people want to get on with their colleagues.

Firstly, you need to get to know all your employees, especially those employees who clash with colleagues and don’t fit in well.  Have regular conversations with them and build a relationship.  There could be a whole variety of things they are unhappy about – and they may not be keen to talk about some of them.

If you appear to be a remote figure in authority, then you will probably never find out about the problems.  If you are approachable and have a regular chat, then your employees will be able to raise issues with you.

So what can you do, if you have a “difficult” employee who doesn’t make any effort to get on with their colleagues?

Stepping in when people don’t get on with each other

When there is a specific issue which has blown up, then it is helpful to speak to both parties and find out their view and position on the subject.  Don’t be afraid to ask them what they think the solution to the issue might be.  You can then give realistic advice about whether or not their desired outcome is achievable.  If they want something which you cannot provide, then you need to be honest.  But there may be a simple solution which would help everyone to settle down.

You may want to use mediation, which can be really helpful in these situations.  This involves an independent third party overseeing a discussion between the two people to try to resolve the issue. 


Getting it right

There are some key things that are helpful to have in place to ensure that people can work effectively together.

  • Have you got  a buddy system, so that one of the team “buddies up” with a new employee? The new employee then always has someone to ask about things and this will help them to feel less strange.
  • People at work do not have to like each other – they may have nothing in common other than the work. But it does need to be clear that they are expected to behave professionally towards colleagues, clients and anyone else they may meet in the course of their work.
  • We all need to feel we have been treated fairly and with transparency. This builds trust in any relationship and will help an employee to feel valued. So it is best to always make sure you are treating people equally.
  • There will always be times when people disagree about something. They need to know that their point of view has been considered.  It Is always useful to ensure they have an explanation and understanding of why their preferred action has not been taken.
  • If there has been a disagreement and upset at work, then the individuals involved need time to recover. It is not helpful to micro-manage them or even just keep checking that everything is fine. If you do, they may feel that they are constantly being watched.
  • If the work is boring, then try to introduce some variety into the working day – change teams around. Make sure there are regular breaks. Make sure you thank people for doing work well – and mean it!  Don’t just pay lip service.
  • If possible, try and provide an area where people can get away from colleagues for a few minutes. We all need to cool down and let off steam sometimes and it is good to be able to do that away from prying eyes.

Back to basics

In my experience, there are four basic reasons why people might not be interested at work.

If you concentrate on these four things, you will also help your team members to get on with each other.

Contribution. People in the organisation need to be able to understand what the employer’s ultimate aim is and how their  work contributes to that.


Appreciation.  The more boring and repetitive a task might be, then the more important it is that you, as the manager, notice and thank the person doing that task and doing it well.


Being heard. If someone has a great idea, they need to feel able to explain it to someone who can put it into practice.  If it is not practical, then people need to know why.  The important thing is to know that managers are listening.


Trust.  If a job is simple and boring, it doesn’t mean that the person doing that job is stupid.  So trust them to do the job and do it well.  You don’t need to keep checking up on them, or instructing them on how to do it better or differently. It is helpful to remember to thank them occasionally, though!


If you get these four basics right, then people will feel more fulfilled and happier at work.  They won’t feel inclined to argue with colleagues or cause a problem in the workplace.

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Jill Aburrow - HR Consultant

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