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National Restaurant Association - How to resolve employee conflict

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How to resolve employee conflict

Conflict is common among all people. It can become particularly problematic in the workplace if not managed correctly.

With the right ideas, attitude and procedures, you can resolve conflict at your restaurant and create a positive, welcoming atmosphere for employees and customers alike.

Maintain positive customer perceptions

Seeing employees fighting is awkward for a customer. It also makes a restaurant seem unprofessional. Managers need specific action plans to deal with such situations.

Trying to break up an employee argument in public can lead to worse confrontation in front of customers. In the event of a conflict, develop a company-wide hand signal or verbal cue for gathering as a team in private. This can help shield customers from embarrassing situations that might affect how they perceive your restaurant.

Next, approach any customers who may have been near the argument. Apologize to them and let them know it’s not the norm at your restaurant. Based on the needs of your guest, consider providing a free round of drinks, dessert or meal. 

If you don’t need to attend to a guest, determine if the conflict between the employees should be resolved right away or if it’s something that can be addressed after their shift. In either case, give them time and space to cool down, if possible.

In the event of violence, follow company standards, one of which should be to call 911. If you perceive an immediate threat to you or your employees, clear from the area.

Achieve balanced resolution

Once they are away from customers, take conflicting employees aside and ask them if they realize the impact of their behavior.

One approach can be to probe the problem with both employees present and work with them equitably. In some cases, speaking to one at a time could give an unfair advantage to the more persuasive storyteller.

A second approach could be to separate the employees to quiet the conflict. Then meet with each one separately with another manager present. This will give each employee his or her say. Plus, having two managers as an audience helps ensure an accurate understanding of the situation as well as any statements made in confidence.

Also strive not to judge conflicting employees. Be impartial and encourage interactive solutions based on a team model. Follow up with employees soon after their conflict.

Minimize negative energy

Ongoing conflicts that aren’t addressed can lead to needless turnover. They distract employees from attending to customer service as well.

While employee conflict can’t be completely avoided, you can still foster a culture that doesn’t tolerate it. Set a good example with your own behavior. Implement preventative policies, too. One good example is Louisiana-based Piccadilly Restaurants, LLC, which has employees sign a Positive Workplace Environment agreement.

Some employee conflicts stem from intolerable behaviors, such as sexual harassment and racial bias. Establish clear guidelines early on – even during employee interviews – that such conduct will not be tolerated.

For some restaurants, relations between the front and back of the house can be a source of tension. Encourage both groups to work together in serving customers. Cacciotti suggests cross-training and/or role play to create empathy for what one’s co-workers might confront each day.

Look at conflicts from employees’ perspectives. Remember they might bring their personal problems to work. Busy shifts can sometimes cause such problems to boil over. Identify root causes of conflicts and help make employees’ jobs less stressful.

Inspire employee harmony

Consider these tips for keeping the peace among your employees:

  • Focus on tasks, not personalities.
  • Look for areas of common ground that bring employees together.
  • Reward team behavior. Ensure that compensation plans recognize team sales or overall customer satisfaction in addition to individual performance. Create reasons and events to celebrate as a team, such as for a big day of restaurant revenue.
  • Remember you can’t referee everything. Sometimes conflict requires no response, as when it doesn’t appear to be escalating or when employees are disagreeing in an appropriate area. Listen for a tone suggesting they’ll reach a solution. Pay attention as an employee or customer vents and then proposes his or her own solution.
  • Recognize who the "complainers" are. Although not always fun people, such employees may be valuable team members who simply require more listening time. Praise their strengths but don't reward inappropriate complaints.
  • Stay in touch with all departments. Ensure they’re communicating and not isolating themselves. Daily contact among departments can help prevent conflict.
  • Distribute work and work hours evenly. Uneven distribution can lead to resentment.
  • Keep staff busy and focused – this will leave less opportunity for conflict.
  • Constantly train employees so they know what is expected of them.

Managing and resolving conflict is well within your grasp. The result will be a harmonious staff who serve your customers and contribute to your success.

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