Common Causes of Conflict Between Employees and Managers

Published: March 21, 2022 | Last Updated: December 4, 2023by Valerie Dansereau

A big chunk of your day is spent at the workplace. You may be faced with deadlines and stress, and as stress increases, tempers can flare. Conflict at the workplace is inevitable, but when there’s conflict between employees and managers, the workplace can quickly turn into a toxic environment. There are many possible reasons for this. Here are a few common causes of conflict between employees and managers.

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Personality Clash

Probably the most common cause of conflict between employees and managers is a personality clash. They may handle stress differently, come from widely different backgrounds or have a much different approach to life and work. One may want to share details of his or her personal life while the other is more reserved and uncomfortable with certain questions.

Sometimes people just don’t get along, and the reason why may not be readily apparent to either of them. Personality clashes are sometimes rooted in misinterpretation of the other’s behavior, actions or words.

Manager Feedback

If an employee feels the feedback from a manager is unfair, it can lead to conflict. This could happen after an annual performance review or anytime a manger criticizes an employee’s work. When an employee feels undervalued or feels like their manager isn’t listening to things they’re trying to discuss, it can quickly lead to tension, conflict or breakdown in communication.

Some managers offer constructive feedback that may be misinterpreted, but others have a habit of continually criticizing and telling employees where they fall short without acknowledging things that have been done well.

Management Style

Employees frequently have expectations of how a manager should lead the team or handle specific situations. They may compare their current manager to managers they’ve had in the past and decide the manager is mishandling things that are going on or that the manager isn’t doing an effective job in managing overall.

Employees may feel the boss is micromanaging and expecting too much, not respecting their work, or they may feel the boss is too laid back and not confronting situations that need to be handled such as problem employees or being overextended. The employee may feel the boss is exhibiting favoritism to other members of the team.

Toxic Environment 

Many different situations can create a toxic work environment that can trigger conflict between employees and managers. Some examples include:

  • Open discussions of politics or religion
  • Failure to listen to the concerns of the staff
  • Complaints of discrimination or harassment
  • Favoritism

When there’s conflict between an employee and a manager, it can quickly affect other members of the team. The workplace may be full of tension and hostility, causing other staff members to become less productive, have difficulty working together or begin looking for another position.

Resolving Conflict

Managers are responsible for leading their teams. If you’re a manager, take the initiative to resolve conflicts with a staff member and you should never ignore disagreements, complaints or tension. Encourage open communication and work on getting to the root of the problem. Collaborate to identify possible solutions. See where there’s common ground between you. Whenever possible, problems should be addressed before they escalate. Trying to avoid conflict is likely to lead to bigger problems.

If you’re an employee that’s unable to resolve problems with a manager, reach out to your HR department. If they are unable or unwilling to help resolve the conflict, outside mediation from an objective third party may be the best way for individuals involved in ongoing or recurring conflicts to work through their differences. Reach out to Pollack Peacebuilding Systems if you’re interested in finding out more about working with experts in the field of conflict management.

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Valerie Dansereau