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MENLO PARK, CA Mar. 15, 2011 -- The motherly instruction to "play well with others" doesn't always travel from the playground to the workplace, a new Accountemps survey suggests. Managers interviewed said they spend, on average, 18 percent of their time -- more than seven hours a week or nine weeks per year -- intervening in employee disputes. Resolving staff conflicts is an ongoing issue faced by supervisors: Past Accountemps studies from as far back as 1991 show similar results.
The survey was developed by Accountemps, the world's first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on telephone interviews with more than 1,000 senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees.
Managers were asked, "What percentage of management time is wasted resolving staff personality conflicts?" The mean response was 18 percent.
"Although staff management is part of the job for supervisors, too much time spent handling disputes gets in the way of business priorities and often signals a larger issue needs to be addressed," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Human Resources Kit For Dummies®, 2nd Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). "For example, being chronically short-staffed can cause friction among employees, as can an overly competitive work environment."
Messmer added, "Workplace conflicts can never be fully eliminated, but there are steps managers can take to foster greater team harmony."
Accountemps offers five tips for minimizing personality conflicts:
1. Know when to step in. You don't want to interject every time a minor issue arises, but you can't afford to turn a blind eye to problems that jeopardize the group's output. Before morale and productivity are impacted significantly, work with those involved to identify the reason for the conflict, clear the air and determine ways to address future disagreements.
2. Don't let one bad apple spoil the bunch. When friction is clearly stemming from the actions of a single individual, remind that person that the ability to collaborate and treat coworkers with respect is a requirement of the job.
3. Help employees get to know each other. Provide opportunities for your staff to interact in nonwork activities, such as lunches or volunteer activities; familiarity can breed greater understanding.
4. Reward positive role models. Dole out praise, promotions and choice assignments to individuals who contribute to a supportive work environment. Recognizing staff for being team players sends a clear message that how they interact with others is as important as their job performance.
5. Make good hiring choices from the start. Hiring individuals with excellent interpersonal skills who are a good fit with your organization's culture will reduce the potential for future conflicts.