Types of Employee-Supervisor Conflict

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Conflict between employees and supervisors can often be resolved within the department or work area. If the conflict is related to performance, the employee and supervisor can stand back and look at what contributes to the conflict and achieve a mutual understanding about job expectations. Likewise, when the employee-supervisor conflict involves competency levels, this, too, can be resolved interdepartmentally. On the other hand, if the conflict is based on factors not related to job duties, expectations or performance, a human resources staff member needs to intervene.

Performance-Based Conflict

Performance-based conflict between an employee and supervisor is one that can be easily resolved, provided both parties are willing to work on it. The supervisor communicates the job expectations to her employee when she joins the company. Assuming the employee fully understands the expectations, she begins her duties on a fresh start, using the qualifications and expertise she demonstrated during the hiring process.

The supervisor is responsible for providing continuous and regular feedback so the employee is aware of successes and achievements, as well as any areas for improvement. When the supervisor gives feedback on a regular basis, it's possible to work on performance issues as they arise instead of waiting until an annual performance appraisal to address them.

Conflict based on differences between expectations and employee output must be identified as early as possible so the employee and supervisor can work together to reestablish the job expectations. When job expectations are clear, the employee can be depended on to perform to the best of his ability.

Competency-Based Conflict

Competency-based conflict between an employee and supervisor can be confused with performance-based conflict. Competency-based conflict means the employee and supervisor have differences related to how to accomplish the duties and responsibilities. In addition, in situations where the employee has a higher level of competency than the supervisor, conflicts arise from a competitive perspective. Conversely, if the supervisor's competency level is far beyond the employee's level, she might expect the employee's performance to be higher than the employee's capabilities.

The resolution for competency-based conflict ranges from conducting a needs assessment to providing skills training, as well as giving a more objective look at the employee's capabilities.

Interpersonal Relationship-Based Conflict

When there is conflict between an employee and supervisor that can't be attributed to job expectations, competency levels or performance, one factor to examine is the interpersonal relationship between a supervisor and her employees. Interpersonal relationships in the workplace can break down because of communication barriers, misunderstandings due to cultural or work style differences, improper education concerning diversity or business principles and ethics.

If there is no reasonable explanation for the employee-supervisor conflict, meeting with a human resources staff member can identify problems in the relationship. An employee relations specialist is trained to resolve differences that affect working relationships. If a supervisor and employee cannot see eye to eye, and the problem is not specifically job-related, you need another impartial point of view to reach a resolution.

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About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in North Carolina and works from her office in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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