Does Hybrid Working Reduce Inter-Personal Conflict?

01 July 2022

Minor workplace grievances are increasingly building to an "explosion" point because employees aren't equipped to tackle them early on, and hybrid working only exacerbates the problem because professional assistance is not on hand to help employees resolve their issues.

On top of negotiations about what hybrid work should look like, there is the whole exclusionary piece coming through as well: 'I got excluded from the Zoom drinks, then I got excluded from the cool project. Jim has been going into the office and suddenly he got on the cool project'".

Where relationships have actually deteriorated, and there's not a high level of trust you can end up in a scenario where almost everything that the other person says is misinterpreted.

But these issues are compounded when HR teams don't want to assume matters will resolve without intervention, so they move straight to formalising them. It seems like everything turns into a grievance at the moment, because everybody's scared of not doing the right thing. But as soon as you do that, everybody gets in their corners and tries to defend their position, and basically nobody wins.

The preventative power of talking one-on-one

Sometimes, an employee's issue with a colleague is so minor they don't want to make a big deal about it, but at the same time, it drives them nuts. The longer it festers, the more likely it is to explode.

Sometimes what an employee needs, is the opportunity to talk through their issue with a neutral party who can help them understand their options, and boost their confidence to initiate a conversation that prevents escalation. It sounds like common sense, but often where people have been festering on these issues for some time, they can't see straight and the situation becomes all-consuming.

Research from overseas counterparts suggests that this type of third-party intervention can reduce formal complaints significantly.

The sexual harassment dilemma

Another area where early intervention has particular value is regarding sexual harassment complaints, because it's very difficult for HR to resolve these informally.

When an employee approaches an HR leader and says, "hey, I've got this issue, and I just don't know how to deal with it", in cases where it might constitute sexual harassment, they have little choice but to formalise it.

You can't really sit in front of the board in six months' time and say, 'yeah, I knew about it, but I didn't quite get around to dealing with it', or 'we thought we'd do something different'.

But not all cases are at the extreme end of the spectrum, and many employees are reluctant to move straight to a formal process, but don’t know how to proceed informally.

Often people don't know how to say, 'if you stop mentioning how I look on the video call every time we have one, that'd be great', or 'actually, I'm feeling quite uncomfortable because you keep standing right up close next to me at the photocopier'.

Sometimes people don't have the confidence just to have that conversation. It’s important to offer independent advice on the words they're going to use to make them feel comfortable to deal with it in an informal way.  Obviously, it’s also important to discuss the formal options, and work through the steps should they at some point want to progress to a formal complaint.

The goal isn't to push a person in a certain direction, but to equip them with knowledge and confidence. Many employees are shocked to hear that if they make a formal complaint, their team members will likely be interviewed. But once they know this, they often choose to try the informal option first.

We can help with all that.

Our team are experienced employment relationship consultants, with significant experience across all sectors.  Trouble-shooting on relationship issues is a core function of our business.  We are also licensed Private Investigators and members of the American Association of Workplace Investigators (AWI).

Call us for help with early interventions for your people, that may obviate the need for formal investigation.  For more information contact: