During a meeting on Wednesday, we were discussing issues that many HR professionals might face and I asked the question, "What about when you have two employees who hate each other?" That got a few chuckles and wisecracks from around the table, but I was serious. I've seen workplaces in which employees couldn't stand each other and it got in the way of productivity.
So I went back to my office and googled it. Well, technically I searched on "employee dislike coworker." (Hate is such a strong word.)
Obviously, I'm not the only one thinking or writing about this. My search results included page after page of links to information about employees' dislike of their coworkers. The top result was "10 Surefire Ways to Get Your Coworkers to Hate You."
So employees' dislike for one another doesn't appear to be an isolated issue. That shouldn't be surprising. Put dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people in the same building and not everyone is going to get along.
But I'm not just talking about an employee not caring for a coworker. I'm talking about coworkers who actively dislike each other and it's apparent in the workplace. They treat each other rudely and are unwilling to work together productively. They might even actively work to sabotage the would-be coworker.
Hundreds of business books have been written extolling the benefits of collaboration and teamwork. We constantly hear about the importance of team chemistry in both sports and business. Here's what Dr. Scott Williams of Wright State University said about team chemistry in his free newsletter LeaderLetter.
Team chemistry is the composition of a team and the relationships among team members. Good team chemistry helps a team achieve its goals, and it results when (a) a team has members who possess the right competencies and (b) they work effectively together to achieve synergies. We most often notice that a team has poor chemistry when the members are talented but fail to work well together to make the most of their abilities. For instance, team members failing to play roles that their teams need someone to play or engaging in unproductive conflict are examples of problems with team chemistry.
I think Dr. Williams nailed the issue I'm talking about when he wrote that "engaging in unproductive conflict" causes problems with team chemistry. And if team chemistry is what helps the team be productive and achieve its goals, then two employees who hate each other are going to affect the team's results.
So what do you do when you have two employees — both talented contributors — who can't stand each other but their jobs require them to work together? You can't make them like each other, but you can demand that they find a way to work together productively. And if they either actively or passively refuse? Then either one or both need to go.
One could argue that both need to be dismissed since they're both contributing to the problem. But if they are both talented contributors, as I said, then retaining one might be the best thing for the business. Removing one of the two eliminates the issue, while still allowing you to retain the more valuable employee.
If you haven't faced this issue yet as a manager, I'd argue it's only a matter of time. Ignoring it will lead to big problems as the other employees line up behind one or the other of their coworkers who are engaged in the feud. And, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, they may not be sure why the feud began, but they'll be a part of it.
So make sure you meet this issue head on, even if it means you lose a talented employee — or two.
Thanks to Dan Oswald / M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC