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  • Writer's pictureBahar Önderol

Escalation in the Workplace: A Double-Edged Sword

Escalation in the Workplace: A Double-Edged Sword
Escalation in the Workplace

Have you ever felt the frustration of hitting a roadblock at work, only to see it spiral into a bigger issue as more people get involved? Escalation in the workplace is not always beneficial in solving problems and can increase tension in relationships, even causing permanent damage.

Let's consider an example. You are a Project Manager (PM) who needs to prepare a report for upper management. You're having trouble collecting the necessary information from the relevant departments. You go to the software department, but they are very busy. You go to the business unit, and they are also very busy.

What do you do?

Typically, the PM tells their own manager and the relevant unit managers that they couldn't get the information, then expects them to talk and solve the problem. The managers re-prioritize and pass it on to their employees. The PM's problem is solved—until next time. Since they escalated the issue last time, it is highly likely that they will encounter resistance instead of cooperation with their next request and may have to resort to escalation again.

The PM's manager may think, "Why can't they do this on their own? Why do I have to intervene every time?" This might seem like a straightforward solution, but it's important to consider the long-term effects of repeated escalation.  When escalation is used too often, it can unnecessarily burden managers and slow down decision-making processes.

So how should a correct escalation be handled in this example?

  1. Instead of escalating the situation, the PM should ask for help. They should explain the importance of the request and ask their colleague for help in prioritizing tasks accordingly, conveying the message that they can solve it together.

  2. Considering that the person the PM asks for information is responsible for providing that information, the problem is not just the PM’s. The person asked for information should take responsibility, knowing that it is their duty to provide this information. They should go to their own manager and say, “I cannot meet this request from the PM due to my workload. Can we discuss re-prioritizing my work or delegating some tasks?”

This approach fosters a more collaborative environment where everyone takes ownership of their role in the process. If the person responsible for providing information accepts their responsibility and communicates their difficulties to their manager, it creates a more balanced and less stressful situation for everyone involved.

While escalation can be valuable in certain situations, overuse can create an unhealthy work environment. By encouraging open communication, empowering employees, and focusing on leadership development, organizations can create a more positive, productive, and healthy work environment.

Remember, the goal is to create a workplace where problems are solved through collaboration and mutual respect, not fear and authority. Start today by rethinking how you handle escalations and encouraging your team to do the same.


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