Is it a disciplinary issue or a personality clash?

December 27, 2021

If you have two employees who are not getting on and it’s affecting your business through conflict or tension, how do you determine whether one or both of the employees have done anything wrong or whether it really is the case that they don’t get on and what steps should you take?

This can often be a tricky situation to deal with – a personality clash is unlikely to be a disciplinary offence in itself, however, such clashes may result in a disciplinary offence if left unchecked. Here are some useful things to consider when deciding how to handle a personality clash situation.

 

 

What is a personality clash?

Something we might describe as a ‘personality clash’ may occur where employees are at odds with each other due to incompatible personalities, different cultural backgrounds, different values and beliefs, conflicting approaches to work or just a different outlook on life. This may manifest itself in niggles, arguments, resentment or complaints.

Why is it important to deal with personality clashes?

As mentioned earlier, if personality clashes are left to fester and grow, they can often have a major (negative) impact on a team, department or whole business.  Some of the different impacts these conflicts can have may include:

  • A difficult and hostile working environment
  • A toxic culture
  • Potential for discrimination claims
  • Increased team gossip which may lead to possible bullying and harassment
  • Mental health issues
  • Increased absenteeism as employees seek to avoid the workplace
  • A divided workforce as employees pick sides

These points really do demonstrate the far-reaching effects of such clashes – it’s rarely just about the two warring people.  Not only that, but the above shows also there is opportunity for a ‘tipping point’ where a personality clash nudges into a disciplinary issue – for example an attempt by either employee (or even another team member) to get people to take sides and then ignore them if they refuse to do so, could end up with a claim of bullying.

Determining whether anyone has done anything wrong

A line manager may experience difficulty in apportioning responsibility to either one of the two parties and its possible the manager’s own background may mean they have a natural allegiance with one or the other.  It is important therefore for line managers to remain impartial when trying to handle these tricky scenarios.

A starting point will be to take some time to observe the team dynamics and build a picture of how this all works.  Also, to get a sense of the overall team morale – are there any days when it is higher than others and do these coincide with the absence of one (or both) of the employees?  Look at absence, engagement and productivity levels – what is this telling you?

But what if it’s impossible to determine any wrongdoing on either side and it really does seem to be a case of two incompatible personalities?

Dealing with a personality clash

Having established neither party has done anything wrong, the following steps are things you can consider in order to deal with a personality clash:

  1. Act quickly – if things can be dealt with promptly it reduces the risk of issues escalating into something more serious such as verbal abuse or even a physical altercation.
  2. Explore possible solutions – this could be offering both parties an opportunity to put their views to one another in a ‘controlled environment’ and explore ways of working together in the future. Mediation is often a highly effective way of achieving this as long as both parties agree to come to the table with a genuine desire to move forward and make things work.
  3. Redeployment – this is a potential option, especially if resolution looks unlikely, although it is not always an avenue open to small businesses. However, if there is an opportunity which means both employees would avoid one another it is definitely something to consider.
  4. Change in working patterns – again, opportunity for this may be limited in smaller businesses, however, it may be possible for the two parties to have significantly reduced or zero contact with each other if their work patterns are rearranged in such a way to accommodate this, for example remote working on certain days of the week.
  5. Coaching sessions – sessions around dealing with workplace conflict could be an option for the whole team as opposed to singling out the two employees.
  6. Dismissal – a last resort option. If a dismissal is to be considered in the event of a personality clash, then it is recommended employers dismiss due to ‘some other substantial reason’ (SOSR).  However, a word of caution – for an SOSR dismissal to be fair in these specific circumstances, the personality clash needs to be so severe it has a major impact on the business.

 

If you have conflict of some kind between employees, realistically it is not going to go away by itself, so it’s essential to address it quickly, identifying whether there are any disciplinary issues, or whether alternative resolution methods are appropriate.  If you’d like some advice on dealing with a personality clash in your team, do get in touch.