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Managing conflict in care settings

The social care sector has enough on it’s plate without having to address problems between staff members. To avoid such problems, Lucy Law, HR Director of Hugh Jones Solicitors, guides us through how we can manage conflicts in these settings. 

Conflict within the employment relationship can cause disruption, growing beyond those involved and impacting the wider workforce. Like a domino effect, this can cascade into other areas of performance, team morale, and retention. This is particularly difficult in a social care setting, as conflict can cause severe disruption to the person being cared for and their family members. Luckily, you can take steps to avoid this build-up and identify the conflict early.

Conflict can be challenging to identify in the early stages, as the employee can mask it. While you can’t force employees to share workplace feedback, you can certainly take steps to manage expectations, keep employees informed, and identify and handle problems within the team before they escalate.

The employment relationship can be complex, so it is vital to get your employee relations right – particularly when considering the personal nature of a carer’s role. In order to set the foundations of a good employment relationship, the following should be maintained:

  • Good communication
  • Proper training and guidance
  • Supervision
  • Regular team meetings

Maintaining good communication with your employees is essential to ensure that the ‘person-centred’ approach for the client is maintained whilst a continued awareness of boundaries and expectations is observed. Employees should be told what their role entails and given the skills to undertake their jobs to the standard you require and expect.

In a social care role, offering the proper training and guidance is vital, as this forms the foundation for the role. Having offered training and communicated your understanding of the role, the employer should consider how to supervise the care team on an ongoing basis, including offering honest and constructive feedback regularly, along with ongoing discussions around development and support. From an employee’s perspective, supervision allows one-on-one time to provide feedback, discuss any issues and access support from a supervisor if needed.

Team meetings are also a good tool for minimising workplace conflict, as they help with team morale and encourage collaboration between colleagues to solve problems. This communication ensures positive engagement with employees and allows for productivity and continued working knowledge of how the person being cared for wishes to be supported.

Additionally, it is important for the employer to be alert to any issues within their team and take proportionate steps to remedy them. The employer should also take all steps to maintain trust and confidence in the employee.

If, after taking these preventative steps, the conflict leads to an irrecoverable breakdown in the working relationship, the employer should be well equipped to demonstrate that they have taken the steps expected and shown good practice as an employer to defend any subsequent claim. Where preventative steps are too late, the team are often divided and unsettled, which can detract from the role that they are employed to undertake. It is important to note that sometimes the likes and dislikes of the person being cared for change, along with their views and wishes, so if the situation isn’t working, it isn’t always reflective of the performance of the employee. Nevertheless, it requires resolution. If left unaddressed and unidentified, this can itself turn into conflict that can impact the wider environment and unpicking a longstanding conflict can be tricky – but it’s not impossible.

Accessing impartial advice and guidance to prevent the escalation of a workplace conflict can often be the most effective route to resolution. It is recommended that employers and employees obtain some professional advice to discuss the options available to them when in this situation.

Images: Lucy Law and Marek Studzinski

More on this topic:

Government extends social care workforce scheme to tackle ‘unethical recruitment’

Documentary series showcases the brilliance of working in social care

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