How to Manage Employee Disagreements in the Workplace

How to Manage Employee Disagreements in the Workplace

In a small, tight-knit workplace like an independent pharmacy, one disagreement between colleagues can have an outsized effect. Occasional disagreements are to be expected in a high-stress environment, but letting an argument fester could stymie communication between employees, reduce productivity, and lead to dangerous mistakes in the pharmacy.

Use these tips to step in when you sense an interpersonal conflict brewing in your pharmacy and help your employees find common ground.

Intervene early

When employees bring their interpersonal conflicts into the workplace, it doesn’t only affect them, it affects all their co-workers. Their problems may become a subject of workplace gossip or cause people to take sides, meaning one bad employee relationship can turn into a web of conflict.

Because of this, it’s important to step in early when you notice employees are having issues working with each other. Make it clear to all staff members that they don’t have to be best friends with every staff member, but they are expected to stay civil with their colleagues and collaborate to get their work done.

Then, take the two people having the conflict aside to see if you can get to the root of the problem.

Find out why

There may be a lot of rumors flying around the pharmacy, but investigate the reason for the conflict yourself to get to the truth of why your employees can’t get along.

Talk to each party separately. They may have two very different interpretations of what the problem is, and they will be able to present their case more clearly without the other person constantly butting in to make corrections.

While you’re determining the nature of the problem, it’s critical that you first rule out any potential workplace harassment or discrimination issues. If you think you’re dealing with a harassment case, immediately refer to the EEOC for appropriate next steps.

However, most conflicts stem from more mundane issues than harassment. Some common reasons for interpersonal conflicts at work include:

  • Mismatched personalities
  • Professional jealousy
  • Perceived favoritism
  • A staff member is not pulling their weight

After you’ve heard both sides of the story, you should be able to put together a fairly accurate picture of what is actually happening and be able to make a plan to help each employee avoid sore spots.

Don’t take sides

While you are listening to each staff member’s side of the story, it’s critical that you present yourself as a neutral party.

If Bob thinks that you are constantly favoring Stacy for the best duties and shifts, he won’t respect your authority if you dismiss his concerns outright.

However, staying neutral doesn’t mean you have to ignore the facts. If Stacy complains about Bob being late every day, forcing her to pick up the slack, and you know that Bob has an ongoing issue with tardiness, you can acknowledge the problem.

You should still hear Bob’s side of the story, because he may have insight on a possible solution, but at the end of the day, the problem ultimately stems from Bob’s lateness.

Mediate for a mutual agreement

After you’ve talked to each employee separately, bring them together for a mediation session so you can work on finding a solution that works for everyone.

As a mediator, you can ask questions to get the ball rolling, but for the most part, the two employees should be talking to each other to find common ground.

Set the expectation that they speak to each other calmly. You may have to intervene if things start to heat up or get off-topic, but if employees are coming in with an earnest goal to solve the problem, they should be able to have a respectful conversation and come to a mutually agreed-upon solution.

Mediation works because the two parties can come up with a solution on their own instead of you dictating it from on high.

Refer to the employee handbook

Your employee handbook will be your best friend when navigating a conflict between employees. Read through to brush up on all the written policies, and use them as your reasoning when communicating with your problem staff members.

By going back to the handbook, you can avoid looking like you have a bias toward a particular employee. If Joaquin is frustrated with Amanda because Amanda is always coming to work wearing open-toed shoes, you can point to the section in the handbook that covers the dress code and remind her that by working in the pharmacy, she must follow these rules.

Armed with the handbook, workplace conflicts become about how to follow proper procedures rather than you taking one person’s side.

Take punitive action if necessary

If improved communication through mediation doesn’t solve the problem, you may have to take more decisive action to solve the problem.

When, despite being reminded of your pharmacy’s policies, an employee continues to cut corners and rely on their coworkers to pick up the slack, the solution isn’t going to be another mediation. Instead, it’s probably time to let them go.

You also shouldn’t try to keep working things out if one employee is too stubborn to agree to mediation terms, or if someone agrees to terms and then continues to bully their coworkers. That bad apple can poison the well and cause other employees to leave, so it’s best if you nip it in the bud and terminate that employee.

Document the issue

Whenever you deal with a workplace conflict between staff members, create a written record of it. Having everything documented will help you keep track of how the issue is progressing, and it can also help to protect your business.

If you have to let an employee go because of their behavior in the workplace, they might turn around and contest the termination with a lawsuit. Because you have a documented history of the problems they caused, your pharmacy should be protected from spurious accusations.

A Member-Owned Company Serving Independent Pharmacies

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy-side of their business. Founded and run by pharmacists, PBA Health serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, wholesaler contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, and more.

An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products — offering the lowest prices in the secondary market.


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