Resolving Employee Conflicts


Conflicts can occur in any workplace. In the restaurant, problem employees can be especially visible and adversely affect operations, food quality and customer service. Owners and managers should be aware of the potential problems and strive to resolve them whenever possible to maintain a well-functioning operation.

Reasons for Employee Conflict

Employee conflicts are not necessarily visible fights or arguments. Conflicts may stem from friction with other employees or negativity toward a workplace policy. Employees may take issue with the owner’s management style, or become jealous of another co-worker’s more favorable job responsibilities. Employees may have a scheduling conflict that turns into a major problem, or they may feel bullied while at work. Any of these can become grounds for conflicts, both minor and serious. The following examples provide more insight into conflicts and the reasons they happen.

Hierarchy issues. Employee hierarchy conflicts could include seniority issues between experienced and new workers. For example, more experienced servers might consistently receive “better” shifts or table sections than others, and therefore make more money in tips. This could be grounds for conflict.

Miscommunication. Miscommunication is a common source of discord in many relationships, working or otherwise. Lack of communication can fall under this category, too. If employees are receiving too little instruction or feedback, or are misunderstanding that instruction or feedback, feelings may be hurt and job performance could sour because of it.

Manager favoritism. Although not a recommended practice, it does happen that employers will openly show their favoritism of one employee or group of employees over another. This can take a toll on the working relationships for employees as well as management.

Unfair work responsibilities. When two employees have drastically different work responsibilities, tension and discontent can ensue. This typically happens with employees with the same job title but different duties. For instance, if one quick service restaurant cashier is consistently required to clean the toilets as her closing cleaning duty, and the other is merely required to wipe the table-tops, a conflict may evolve.

Harassment. Workplace harassment of any kind should never be tolerated. Communicate this to employees from their very first day on the job, and make it clear that harassment could result in termination.

Discrimination. As with harassment, discrimination is intolerable in the workplace. Equal Employment Opportunity Laws make it illegal to discriminate against employees or co-workers due to age, gender, religion, race, disability and other characteristics. » Learn More about Employment and Labor Laws

Resolving Conflicts

In order to most effectively resolve conflicts in the restaurant, a manager or supervisor needs to be willing to learn about the problem, listen to all parties involved and work to repair the issue so that the business continues to run smoothly.

Involve a manager. Some employee quarrels are better solved in the presence of a manager, especially if one party tends to overwhelm the other and prevent productive communication.

Instill an “open-door” policy. Conflicts between employees and managers can present problems, especially if the employee feels they need to report the conflict to someone in a higher position. Many businesses support “open-door” policies in which employees can go above a manager to the next available supervisor without fear of retaliation or repercussions.

Refer to workplace policies. A workplace manual with policies and procedures for all employees is the best way to outline and solidify expectations, job descriptions in the workplace. Making employees aware of these policies from the start will help deter conflict but will also provide a point of reference when dealing with conflict.

Make it a learning experience. Whenever possible, turn the conflict into a learning experience. Communicate with all upset parties and find out what caused the discord, why it was problematic and how to avoid such disputes in the future.

Do not let it taint the customer experience. Any workplace inconsistencies should affect the customer as minimally as possible. The team needs to work together to deliver quality guest service, and any variance from the norm should be dealt with after the shift is over, if possible.


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