Managing Workplace Conflict After the Pandemic

When it comes to workplace conflict, even the most well-managed teams can run into challenges. A certain disagreement or a clash of personalities may not have been an issue in your water lab prior to the pandemic, but due to COVID-19 restrictions and new workplace safety rules, the dynamics in your lab may have changed.

As a semblance of normalcy returns to your workplace, there are certain issues you'll want to be aware of and recognize as they arise. Read on to know when to step in and how to manage your team post-COVID.

Tensions After the Pandemic

Although there are many potential causes of workplace conflict, the aftermath of the pandemic may present some unique challenges that can lead to increased tensions.

  • Changing roles and understanding of responsibilities: You and your team needed to remain flexible throughout the pandemic when it came to maintaining safety protocols and a healthy work cadence. If that meant tweaking job descriptions or sharing responsibilities in new ways, your employees may not be sure where they fit in as your lab fully reopens. At the very least, they may need a refresher on what is expected of them and their peers.
  • Uncertain relationships: Uncertain roles can easily lead to uncertain relationships, so your team may need some time to get re-acquainted, on a personal level, while also re-familiarizing themselves with how they work best in the lab, both individually and as a team. It will help if you consciously and regularly carve out time to allow your employees to work on personal relationships, team motivation, and workplace culture.
  • Ambiguous work processes and guidelines for collaboration: One universal consequence of the pandemic was a disruption of effective work processes. Now that your team is back together, you may have to realign their understanding of the lab's processes and workflow, especially seeing as many changes may stay in place moving forward.

Be on the Lookout for Potential Conflicts

The best way to deal with workplace conflict is to head it off before it becomes a real problem. As a manager, you'll want to remain alert for potential signs of simmering tensions.

  • Take note of reactions: During your initial meetings, be mindful of how your team reacts to one another. Are they listening to each other in a non-judgmental and productive way? Is there any new variance between coworkers?
  • Encourage questions: As you describe the plans for the future, observe how open your employees are to speak up, ask questions, or express a dissenting opinion or different perspective.
  • Note behavior across different environments: Pay as much attention outside meetings as in them. Many employees will be enthusiastic about getting back to a routine, but there might be a subtle difference between good-natured enthusiasm and behavior that may result in arguments or miscommunication.
  • Prepare to manage conflict resolution: If and when conflicts do arise, pay attention to whether or how they are resolved at the time. Some team conflict is bound to happen as your team gets back to a steady and efficient pace, but there's a difference between a flash of pique that quickly disappears and a clash that might lead to lingering resentment and require intercession.

Management Strategies for Workplace Conflict

As an experienced lab manager, you're no stranger to employee conflict, and you'll be familiar with many of the best practices and strategies you can use to contend with conflicts post-pandemic.

  • Don't hesitate: Given all you have on your plate, it may be tempting to take a wait-and-see approach toward a conflict you've witnessed. But considering the stress and challenges your team has encountered throughout the pandemic, it's better to be proactive and quell any conflict before it arises.
  • Be mindful of your own preconceptions: Although you likely know your employees well, their perceptions of situations may have changed due to all the uncertainty around the pandemic. Be sure to determine and focus on the facts of a disagreement in order to mediate effectively and, ideally, reach a quicker resolution.
  • Listen actively: Your primary goal is not to agree or disagree but to understand and find a solution. So, listen to all parties empathetically. Ask questions to make sure you understand all perspectives, even repeating back what you've heard, to make sure everyone has the same understanding of the conflict.

Resolution Is a Team Goal

Just as workplace conflict is inevitable, even in the best of times, so is the shared goal of conflict resolution. After all, no one was spared from challenges during the pandemic, and it seems safe to assume everyone wants a return to a smoothly operating workplace as quickly as possible.

The more efficiently you resolve conflicts between your employees, the happier and more productive they are likely to be.

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Jeff Rowe
Writer and Editor

For the past 25 years, Jeff Rowe has worked as a writer and an editor for the nonfiction and professional markets, including researching, writing, and editing feature articles, blog posts, speeches, project reports, and magazine essays. He has published numerous articles and essays on developments in health care and health information technology, the home medical equipment market, natural resource and environmental issues, and food topics. He has also been editor and community manager for numerous industry-targeted websites, as well as author of a developing series of novels set in medieval Spain.