When employees harbor resentment toward each other or management at work, it can create silent but significant obstacles to getting things done. As a manager, you need to understand why resentment happens, and what you can do to stop resentment from blocking collaboration among your team members.

What is Resentment?

Resentment is a complicated emotion. It involves feelings of anger, bitterness, indignation, humiliation, sadness, and shame. It generally develops over time when a person feels that they have been treated unfairly. It may result from actions that left them feeling:

  • Undervalued
  • Disrespected
  • Ignored
  • Depersonalized

Often, people who feel resentment perceive that their identity or their contributions have been dismissed or overlooked. Resentment can be caused by negative interactions between people, such as disrespectful comments or interference with a person’s efforts. It can also be caused by a lack of positive actions, such as  when a person’s accomplishments go unrecognized or concerns are ignored.

Resentment is different than just holding a grudge. A grudge results from one person in a relationship being unable to move past their negative feelings about the event. However, resentment tends to be more personal. It can create a toxic relationship between coworkers that can poison team efforts toward collaboration and cooperation.  

How Does Resentment Manifest in the Workplace?

Resentment can arise in any relationship – from marriage to management. However, when resentment manifests at work, it can often be difficult for supervisors to identify and address. This is because, unlike other forms of workplace conflict, resentment tends to build silently. The team member feeling resentful may not say anything about how they are feeling. Instead, they may ruminate on their resentment for weeks or months at a time. When resentment finally does manifest, it may happen long after the precipitating event or events.

However, even before a manager or supervisor becomes aware of a team member’s resentment toward a colleague, those emotions may already be interfering with the person’s work. Resentment has a physical effect on the body. The process of ruminating over negative events builds up stress, which in turn can create physical health issues and increased absenteeism. When not promptly addressed, resentment at work can even drive a person to resign.

How to Stop Resentment from Blocking Collaboration

In addition to the employee retention challenges, resentment can also interfere with your team’s ability to pull together and work collaboratively. True collaboration requires everyone on the team to trust one another, and to work together to meet company goals. Because resentment forms when a person feels they have been treated unfairly, a resentful person may withhold their thoughts, efforts, and ideas from the collaborative process.

The best option to stop resentment from blocking collaboration is to help your coworkers resolve the resentment directly. However, such processes often take time. To keep resentment from interfering with company goals you may need to reassign team members to provide distance between the people affected. This may include assigning a different supervisor or adjusting team arrangements. However, it should be clear that this is not a punishment, but instead an accommodation while the conflict resolution process is ongoing.  

Using Conflict Resolution to Diffuse Resentment Between Coworkers

When it comes to resolving resentment at work, “the best way out is through.” Coworkers need to be given an opportunity to talk through their feelings in a safe setting. This may involve confidential reporting to a manager, but ultimately, it will need to include an open, honest conversation with the team member who hurt them.  Through facilitated conflict resolution, employees can be empowered to express their feelings and address any misunderstandings or improper behavior that caused those feelings to form in the first place, and to perpetuate over time.

A trained facilitator can help the employees involved recognize legitimate concerns and commit to solutions. He can also help a resentful employee work through those emotions, allowing them to let go of hurt feelings that no longer have a legitimate basis.

Resentment can be toxic to a collaborative working environment. If you believe your team members are resentful of one another, you need to act quickly to identify, address, and resolve the resentment, while also recognizing any legitimate concerns the resentful employee may have. The most important thing is to make certain that each employee feels heard and respected during the conflict resolution process, so that they can move past resentment and focus on collaboration and the success of their team.

David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience helping teams resolve resentment and workplace conflict.  Contact us to meet with David and start your company’s strategic growth plan today.