(From Human Resource Executive Online) -- Handling workplace tensions should be a priority for frontline managers, but many employees believe that their bosses are not up to the job, according to a survey of 2,700 employees released this month by Healthy Companies Intl. in Arlington, Va.
Nearly half -- 41 percent -- of employees responding to the survey think the person to whom they report does not deal well with workplace conflicts. In fact, of 20 managerial behaviors that the survey asked respondents to rate how much they trusted their immediate supervisor to master, handling workplace conflicts ranked last in the survey.
Stephen Parker, president of Healthy Companies Intl., says that HR leaders should "first and foremost" model the behavior that best facilitates conflict management: they should "objectively and calmly" summarize the situation for the manager; acknowledge that there are different perspectives and interests in the situation; be honest about their own interests and preferences; and commit to honoring the manager's decision regardless of the outcome and model team work behavior afterward.
"These behaviors make it easier for even the most reluctant boss to manage workplace conflicts," Parker says.
Some managers are in denial because they wrongly think workplace conflicts are a negative reflection on them, he says. However, managing workplace conflict is a core management responsibility, and delaying or avoiding only makes matters worse.
Marie Holmstrom, a director of talent management and organization alignment at Towers Watson, says part of the problem is that the role of immediate supervisors has become so complex that managers are now "overloaded" with responsibilities -- supervising direct reports, coaching them within talent management programs, completing administrative tasks such as employee-performance reports or expense reports, and also "delivering" on the work-at-hand themselves.
"We've been working with companies and talking to HR leaders, having them take a hard look at the manager role and redefining the role to better handle workplace conflict," says Holmstrom, who is based in Charlotte, N.C. "They need to have more time in their day to be able to pay attention to how work gets done, how the team is performing, and to proactively identify potential sources of conflict so they can more easily and quickly mitigate it."
Some of managers' administrative duties can be offloaded to other players on their team, or they could be given information management software systems, so they don't have to data crunch or perform other administrative tasks by hand, she says. Managers should also be trained on how to handle workplace conflict.