Conflicts between employees can seriously damage your franchise. Fortunately there are ways to peacefully resolve these issues and even strengthen your company
No matter how much effort you’ve put into making your franchise a warm and welcoming workplace, the sad reality is that some employees will inescapably be at odds with each other. “Conflict is an inevitable part of working relationships,” says Pam Rogerson, HR and operations director at Employment Law Advisory Service, the business-support firm. “When people with different perspectives and backgrounds spend any amount of time together working towards a similar goal there are always going to be disagreements.” But it’s important to recognise that while resolving quarrels may take a lot of time, the rewards of managing them the right way can be huge. “Conflict doesn’t always have to be a bad thing,” she says. “Managing disputes the right way can provide opportunities for learning, growth and creativity for employees and management alike.”
While recognising that conflicts can be a good thing, it’s equally important to understand the risks of handling them the wrong way. “If you operate a large franchise [you’ll] have several employees and when employees are in conflict with each other [no one] is happy or fully productive,” says Ian Sharland, director and co-founder of the Wow World Group, the multi-brand franchisor that owns Baby Foundations, Baby Sensory, Toddler Sense, Mini Professors, KeepaBeat and Reading Fairy. Indeed, every moment workers spend talking behind each other’s backs is time not used to push your franchise to the next level. “Thus, speedy and effective resolution of conflict is essential to the running of a good franchise,” he says.
Moreover, having a workplace rife with conflicts can have horrendous outcomes for your staff turnover. “It has a big impact on retention rates,” says Alex Efthymiades, director and co-founder of Consensio, the conflict-management and mediation firm. For instance, unless employers recognise staff members’ feelings, conflicts will fester and create unpleasant work environments. “People don’t want to work in those environments,” she says. So taking action when conflicts occur is paramount for the success of your franchise.
But ensuring a peaceful solution to your workers’ issues may be easier said than done, especially if you’re afraid of arguments. “A lot of organisations avoid conflicts so it festers and grows,” says Efthymiades. The consequence of not stepping in the moment you see the signs of disgruntlement brewing is that you can’t contain it, which could mean the resentment felt by employees grow and may even start to include more people. “So something really small, like an argument at a team meeting, can quickly spiral out of control,” she says. In other words, if you see something, say something. Don’t wait for issues to resolve themselves.
Ironically, while some may be reluctant to take action, other franchises may struggle with the opposite problem. “You can have organisations that deal with conflict in an overly aggressive manner,” says Efthymiades. In those cases they are quick to turn conflicts into formal issues. “So people go directly to HR and they right away want to take out grievances and it becomes about revenge and punishing people rather than trying to understand what’s going on and how they can resolve it,” she continues. So rather than leaning too much towards either extreme, franchises are best advised to find a middle ground.
Recognising that striking this balance may prove difficult, franchisors are advised to ensure their franchisees and managers are trained to deal with disputes between employees. “Coaching is the best route,” says Sharland. For instance, while most franchisees’ initial training includes procedures that would enable them to boost their sales, it may be a good idea to also include some instruction on what to do when employees are in disagreement with each other. “[Time] spent with a franchisee [and] helping them understand the generic approach to conflict resolution helps with the personal development of the franchisee,” he says.
As a first step to prevent conflicts flaming out of control is to make sure you step in early. “By identifying an issue early and acting appropriately, it’s possible to prevent it from escalating,” says Rogerson. This means that if you notice that there may be some friction in the workplace, then ensure that the people involved have a chance to vent their thoughts. “By hearing their frustrations and issues, you are showing them that you care about your employees and values their perspective,” she says. “It’s important during this stage to remain impartial and non-judgemental. Each employee should have equal chance to speak and you should ensure that they are all able to get their side of the disagreement across.”
Unfortunately, these initial efforts may not always be enough. “If a conflict cannot be resolved internally by the people who are trained in conflict-resolution skills, then before you initiate a formal process, try to get a highly experienced conflict coach or mediator to come into the company,” says Efthymiades. Hopefully, these consultants should be able to help you out. “Some conflicts are so intractable that you may end up with a formal process or in a tribunal but what we’re trying to do is to minimise the cases that need to get there,” she says.
Dealing with hurt feelings is never easy but franchisors and franchisees alike have the world to win by taking conflicts seriously. After all, every business is a people’s business and unfortunately people tend to disagree sometimes.