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6 Ways to Manage Dissent for an Enhanced Employee Experience

March 03, 2022 Digital Workplace
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Some level of workplace conflict can be healthy if it leads to a respectful exchange of perspectives. Oftentimes, however, that conflict can be harmful and have a detrimental effect on the employee experience, leading to decreased productivity, a drop in team morale, and a negative culture that, if left unchecked, will harm the company’s reputation. 

In work environments, conflict typically stems from dissent or disagreements that go unresolved. Preventing dissension is the best strategy, but in situations where it's taken hold, leaders face significant challenges, particularly when teams are working in a remote or hybrid environment where they're not in regular direct contact.

Dissent and the Employee Experience

One example of large-scale dissent that had a negative effect on employee experience occurred at project management software maker Basecamp in early 2021, when CEO Jason Fried announced that the company would no longer allow political discussions, cease all "paternalistic" benefits and disband certain committees, including one on diversity and inclusion. The decision was met with a significant employee backlash, with a third of the company's workforce deciding to exit. But internal dissent had been brewing for some time. 

At Coinbase, managers chose to offer severance packages to employees who disagreed with its anti-political stance on social injustices. Approximately 60 employees left the crypto company due to a difference in opinion, but the initial dissent had taken hold across numerous Slack channels.

There's ongoing debate about how these companies should have handled dissent. Some argue these situations could have been handled better to limit the magnitude of dissent and the problems that ensued. For those looking to head off an employee experience challenges, here are six ways to handle large-scale dissension.

Related Article: The Politics Trap Basecamp Fell Into

6 Ways to Manage Employee Dissent 

1. Solicit Criticism

When implementing new policies or hearing whispers about a brewing problem, it may seem counterproductive to seek out criticism from all personnel. Yet, doing so can be beneficial for the company.

“Explain why dissent is so crucial to your organization in order to demonstrate that you are committed to listening to and using its opinions," said Michael Butt, vice president of marketing at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Verta, an AI and machine learning startup. "When you put your trust in your colleagues to contribute, your entire team will shine."

Hearing from employees about issues brewing early on provides leaders with an opportunity to change course and adjust potentially damaging policies before unrest grows. 

Related Article: 4 Strategies to Handle Dissent in the Digital Workplace

2. Set an Example

Having a respectful and fair work environment is critical to good corporate culture. To do this successfully, CEOs and managers must lead by example.

“Set a positive example, focus on positive emotions and reward good behaviors,” said Matt Brown, CEO of Bonsai, a San Francisco-based software company that supports freelancers.

If you’ve consistently demonstrated yourself to be a good leader, then employees are more likely to follow your lead and may be willing to discuss things before they’re ready to quit, he said.

3. Remain Calm and Objective

Good leaders need to master the art of remaining calm and objective when dissent is brewing. Listen carefully to multiple sides and try to manage the conflict with a clearer understanding of how each side views the problem.

“Making rash decisions is unacceptable in such situations; it will only decrease your credibility as a leader," said Pawel Hytry, co-founder and CEO of Spacelift, a Redwood City, Calif.-based software company. "The leader has to remain unbiased and focused on resolving the conflict.” 

4. Hold a Meeting With Stakeholders

Company leadership should set up meetings with group heads to better understand the issues at hand and identify ways to resolve the conflict. 

“In a space filled with experts, disagreements are unavoidable, as everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” said Hytry.

5. Organize a Town Hall

If things get out of hand, organizing a town hall where everyone can air their concerns and grievances may be a good strategy. In a hybrid company, this could mean calling an in-office meeting and allowing those remote to join virtually in an all-hands-on-deck meeting. While this may initially be difficult to coordinate, the benefits can often outweigh the challenges. 

Related Article: 4 Trends That Will Shape Employee Experience in 2022

6. Follow Up

Things might still be bubbling after the conflict is seemingly resolved. Rather than assuming that everything is going well, managers should follow up with disgruntled employees to ensure they're satisfied with the resolution and that any changes agreed upon in meetings or town halls are being kept.

If that’s not possible, disciplinary action or a mutual parting of ways may be the only option. 

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