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Workplace Harmony

Originally published on September 21, 2016

This is the 11th part of a multi-part Blog on Executive Leadership

Harmony makes small things grow; lack of it makes great things decay.  – Sallust Quotes

In this section we will examine how to create harmony in the workplace. In order to do that, we must first address some of the various reasons why conflict in the workplace occurs. Where does it come from? 

Workplace Conflict

One of the challenges to managing workplace conflict is that the genesis—or exacerbating actions—of the conflict may be external to the organization. Caryn Walsh (2015) listed various ways that conflict can enter the workplace, with the most common including:

  • Lack of role clarity

  • Unrealistic task expectations

  • Unclear processes

  • Systems and deadlines

  • Power games

  • Territory

  • Unmet needs

  • Intolerance of diversity

  • Lack of effective communication and

  • Ineffective leadership styles that demoralize instead of motivating employees.

Unhappy people make unhappy workplaces, which, in turn, affects the bottom line. Conflict at work increases when issues are not addressed; frustration grows over time, people start to pull away from each other (not uniting to solve problems they face) and productivity is slowly affected and profitability reduced. Worse still is when organizational leaders talk about others and refuse to listen to those around them. Research indicates that:

  • 60% – 80% of all organizational workplace difficulties stem from strained relationships between employees, not from individuals lacking the necessary skills or role competencies.

  • The typical workplace manager spends 25% – 40% of their time dealing with workplace conflict. That amounts to two days each week. (Washington Business Journal, 2005)

  • This translates to approximately 96 days per annum of the manager’s time spent dealing with workplace conflict. How much money does that equate to?

  • The cost of replacing an employee is high. Ernst & Young reports that the cost of losing and replacing an employee may be as high as 150% of the departing employee’s annual salary. This includes the manager’s time spent training new employees. (

  • Two-thirds of both men and women say work has a significant impact on their stress levels, and one in four has called in sick or taken a ’mental health day’ as a result of work stress. (American Psychological Association, 2004)

  • One-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. (NorthWestern National Life).

It is likely that you have one (or maybe even a few) employees who fall into one of the scenarios above. Moreover, it is even possible that having employees who exhibit some of the characteristics brought on by the above scenarios may be a symptom of a problem at the managerial level…or even worse, what if it a symptom of missteps at your leadership level?

Fear not! There are methods by which you may help provide an environment conducive to workplace harmony. In her book Effective Communication or Conflict at Work?, Caryn Walsh (2015) proposed eight methods that leaders may implement to create—and maintain—workplace harmony:

  1. If you are a leader, be the role model who leads their people to greatness. Learn how to communicate well and connect with your people!

  2. Create a culture of harmony and accepting diversity by ensuring you and all your people accept differences. Regularly set up organization-wide training in communication skills and conflict resolution.

  3. Don’t let conflict grow. Encourage your people to deal with issues as they arise.

  4. Show interest in your people. They all have lives outside of the workplace. Take an active interest in what their interests are.

  5. Introduce a ‘zero tolerance to bullying’ workplace policy and create processes to deal with this behavior when it arises.

  6. Be optimistic in everything you do and create a ‘can do’ attitude in your workplace.

  7. Be approachable and manage your emotions well at all times.

  8. Choose a leader (local or international) whom you admire. Model your behavior on theirs.

Maintaining workplace harmony grows in difficulty as the size of an organization grows. Beyond a certain point, senior leaders must begin to rely on managers to operationalize many of the principles that may directly influence employees. Adding additional layers of leadership and/or management between senior leaders and employees creates additional challenges:

  1. Senior leaders have less direct interaction with employees, limiting two-way, real-time feedback and observation.

  2. Senior leaders often end up relying on information passed to them by managers or junior leaders—this information is, essentially, coming through the filter of whoever is providing the go-between communication link.

  3. Because of the intermediate communication links provided by “middle management,” the potential for information from senior leaders to be filtered before presentation to employees.

  4. As senior leaders become more distant from employees, rest assured that the employees still look to the leader to set an example for them—but, again, the middle management filter may insulate you from what employees are really thinking or saying about you…

And so, as you—the senior leader—lead the organization from small to medium to [wherever you want it to go], maintaining harmony while recognizing the challenges of leadership in a growing organization takes teamwork; not just teamwork from the perspective of working with middle managers to eliminate or adjust filters in the communication links, but teamwork in the sense of how well you understand and can manage in a team concept.

Andrew Field, President and CEO of, fosters a collaborative work environment that minimizes political squabbles. Field, who founded the commercial printing firm in 1999, has articulated five principles that guide his leadership:

  1. Give everyone the authority to do what’s best for customers.Field and his management team communicate their expectations to the team—and hold everyone accountable for follow-through. “Our employees, from sales through manufacturing, have the power to stop any order to ensure accuracy and quality,” he says. When everyone is equally responsible for pleasing the customer, then there’s less need to subvert each other’s success.

  2. Set group goals.Field devises easy-to-understand, measurable goals for teams to pursue. After each quarter, he tracks outcomes and distributes the results to the workforce. The collective urge to achieve group objectives prevents individuals from placing their interests above the team.

  3. Encourage free exchange of information.Office politics often goes hand-in-hand with withholding information from certain employees. Field encourages employees to give and receive well-intentioned criticism.

  4. Include teams in decision-making.Field shares data with staffers and in­­volves them in important decisions. This increases cohesion and collective buy-in.

  5. Learning from each other. In the best teams, individuals apply their strengths and join forces with peers who possess complementary skills. Field says he wants employees to “openly discuss likes and dislikes with regard to communication, tasks and personal focus.” (BMD, 2015)

— Adapted from Seven Disciplines of a Leader, Jeff Wolf and Ken Shelton, John Wiley & Sons.


Next week will be part 12 of the series: Employee Retention


BMD. (2015). 5 keys to create group harmony. Business Management Daily. Retrieved from

Walsh, C. (2015). Effective communication or conflict at work? Eight ways to create harmony in your organisation.  Retrieved from



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