Conflict Management between employees during Covid-19

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been having conversations with some of our clients to address their concerns over conflict and animosity between staff members.  With so much uncertainly around job roles, job security and financial worries, it’s no wonder your staff may be feeling unsettled and emotionally charged and so we wanted to support you as an employer to help you understand some of the common issues that may arise and how you can manage these successfully.

Common conflict issues:

“Why me” syndrome

‘Why me syndrome’ can be caused by unclear communication, especially where other staff in the same job title may still be working or furloughed. Essentially where employees are not working towards the same overarching business goals they may struggle to understand the decisions made on their status. Fairness and business requirements must be taken into account when deciding who is furloughed and who is not. Without individual clarity, conflict and animosity can grow between staff, with resentment from both furloughed and non-furloughed staff.

What can employers do?

Communication is key, being as transparent and honest as possible helps people to understand and work with an organisation to achieve its new goal of safeguarding for the future.

When furloughing staff, you should be honest with the reasons for selection and ensure staff have all the information they need to prepare. Furlough conversations should be individual with an opportunity for them to speak to someone in the future should queries arise. The same should be completed for those still working, they should know why they are selected and what the business is doing to support them, both from a wellbeing perspective, but also through alternative working schemes.

Animosity can grow with non-furloughed staff feeling they are carrying non-workers, with furloughed employees feeling they have been overlooked or treated unfairly. There are conversations taking place on the ability to rotate furlough, however, at the moment there is no clarity on this from a government perspective.

To reduce this conflict, businesses could look to provide a buddy system where those continuing to work buddy up with furloughed workers to remain in contact and support continuity of service, however, care should be taken to ensure the guidelines of working during furlough are followed. When the pandemic slows, there will be a need for employees to come together as a team quickly to help businesses recover, therefore taking the time to arrange engagement activities such as team building while the furlough processes run – examples could be zoom quizzes, fancy dress photos or treasure hunts in the home – businesses should be creative in encouraging team activities to maintain team ethos.

Decreased mental health through isolation, limited Vitamin D, Changed diet/routine

For furloughed staff, they may find that boredom and lack of routine has an impact on their fatigue and mental processes. It is important for employers to understand that a lot of furloughed employees have only time at their disposal. They risk overthinking issues that are out of their control, therefore employers are responsible for ensuring regular communication and support is available. Although those working from home have a focus outside of isolation and limited free time, they may also struggle in changes to their routine.

What can employers do?

As more people work from home fatigue starts to set in, the same for those who are furlough and limited on the activities they undertake. It is important for employers to remember they have a duty of care towards the welfare of their staff and so encouraging behaviour to promote both physical and mental health is now more important than ever!

Allow your home workers flexibility to utilise their hours exercise a day (remember the core day may restrict their ability to get outside!) Promote free services to help such as Youtube videos and diet management podcasts/blogs. Your employees may have always taken lunch together so why not arrange a lunchtime zoom call, so they can still speak freely with other colleagues.

Promoting time away from computers is also highly important. Homeworking runs a risk of staff not taking enough break time so ensure you monitor this closely where possible and encourage them to take the proper breaks. Get all your employees whether furloughed or not to promote the things they are doing – maybe have a competition on the most creative routine, or set up a WhatsApp group to share ingenious exercise tips they have found – cooking recipes – or even Netflix box sets!

Change management

During the last few weeks, people have been pushed outside of the comfort zone, had limitations enforced on their private time and have had to adapt to new routines. Remember, people don’t like change, we are creatures of habit!

For furloughed staff, they may feel they have lost their place in home hierarchies, they can no longer go out and earn and therefore have to adopt new “duties”. This is similar for remote workers or those continuing to work in the workplace, places they used to associate with relaxation are now places of work, so where do they go to switch off?

What can employers do?

This is one of the hardest things for employees to come to terms with as it usually involves them coming out of their usual comfort zones. Working remotely may come second nature to some employers, but it is a novel idea for most employees. Encouraging employees to follow their usual daily routine is a really positive step towards supporting mental health, however, flexibility should certainly be exercised.

With this in mind, employers should encourage communication in as many different forums as possible, group conference calls are great, but these should be for communication that relates to the business or the current business climate, employers shouldn’t forget the importance of 1:2:1’s, regular touchpoints and non-work-related talk. This could be through a scheduled 1:2:1 meeting, following the normal processes as much as possible.

Providing regular feedback and praise is also a good step to take. Remember an email does not communicate the whole message, people need to reflect the message with the tone it is delivered in, the best way to do this is visually. In regards to performance management and to reduce conflict between employees, try to limit the amount of team data shared, such as call volume logs etc. Some people may look at others and think they are “slacking” whereas others may become highly demotivated while they are working to familiarise themselves with their new way of working.


Your staff will be feeling out of the loop because your employees do more than just work when they are clocked in. They interact, have “banter” and form friendships. When separated from their colleagues through furlough and working from home, these relationships can become strained, especially where they may have experienced different processes. Homelife and relationships may be completely different for staff, some may be completely alone, others may be in strained relationships, some may have trouble adapting to 24/7 parenting, therefore work could be their usual outlet for release or a “safe place”.

Performance management and increases in technological communication can also lead to a change in the way messages are delivered and received. Only communicating through group calls and emails may decrease and limit the amount of 1:2:1 communication a person has and leads to an interpretation of the message being delivered.

What can employers do?

This can touch people in many different ways and therefore getting to know your staff during this period is vital in ensuring they continue to feel a part of your business. Wellbeing calls are important, not just for those who continue to work but also for those furloughed, take the time to encourage your team to talk to you about non-work related things, such as a personal accomplishment of the day (even if it’s just getting dressed that morning!)

As an employer you are an important part of your employee’s lives and are their direction of normality in this time of change, taking time to become familiar is definitely positive and will help to build trust – supporting your communication and intentions. Be careful, however, not to become over-familiar and ensure that you are focusing on the work perspectives as well.

This could be a good exercise to complete with all staff, encouraging interactions between people that may not have spoken in the office before – a good example could be asking all staff to provide one unknown fact about themselves, this can then be sent out to all and they have to guess who it is about. It’s a good icebreaker for the future and encourages team building!


Stress may build due to financial loss under furlough and employees will need to adapt to 80% of their salary. A lot of employers look at that number and think it is the majority of their pay, however when you look at the numbers, employees could be losing a lot of money they rely on – For example;

National minimum wage employee on 40 hours per week – 80% net = £910.76 a loss of £227.69 per month (example purposes only)

For most UK families that equates to 2 and a 1/2 weeks of food shopping! Additionally, those who continue working may be questioning what will happen if they catch Coronavirus, what if they are eventually furloughed, how can they protect themselves?

What can employers do?

You may be in a position where you are unable to pay the additional 20%, bonuses or overtime to employees and that is ok – the Coronavirus Job retention scheme and additional grants have been put in place to support you from a financial aspect, however, we should not forget the impact this has to employees too.

Finding resources outside of your payroll to support your staff is a good way to achieve your commitments to their wellbeing as well as being empathetic towards their concerns. Send your staff the details for Mortgage holidays from the government updates, provide the contact details for services such as the Money Advice line and step change.

There are a lot of people in similar circumstances at the moment and it is important that we do what we can to help others. Maybe your payroll/Accountants are aware of schemes that could support your staff or maybe they can find alternative ways to support through the use of holidays or TOIL.

Make sure you check out any staff benefits you have in place for employees too, many pensions and healthcare providers offer discounts on shopping or other perks for being a member – this information could really help your staff when they are in financial need!

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