Success Simplified

Monika has recently co-authored a book on “Success Simplified” with Stephen Covey.

Success Simplified book cover

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Blunders managers often encounter when attempting to resolve workplace disputes

In today’s workplace employee conflicts may and do happen. Sometimes they begin as simple matters which escalate into significant issues in the workplace causing lower performance and productivity resulting in lack of communication, misunderstanding of the intent, personality clashes or different perceptions and values.

It is vital to deal with employee conflict, whether minor or significant, in a timely fashion to preserve a positive, healthy work environment and to evade any increase or collateral damage among work teams and others departments.

We are finding that managers often do not respond accordingly to the issues of conflict in the workplace. In many cases, it is for lack of experience, fear of retaliation against them, insufficient training and lack of confidence. Sometimes they find it easier to avoid and ignore then tackle the sensitive issues. When issues are not dealt with quickly and efficiently in the workplace, they tend to fester and develop in magnitude. When an employer has contacted me, the situation usually has been growing underground, so to speak, for some months before it explodes in either the HR office or before the managers. Typically, at this point, the problem is more complicated, involves more staff and takes more effort and time to resolve. At times it may even undermine the staff’s confidence in the manager’s ability to manage.

Some common behaviours of supervisors and managers which may have a negative impact on the managing of workplace disputes effectively would be ignoring the situation until it is about to “burst”. When managers disregard challenging situations, when they do come to the surface, they require immediate and urgent action usually at a very inconvenient time to resolve. Some managers tend to overlook an awkward situation altogether until the case is ready to blow up. Then they need to take immediate action to try to deal with it, and this almost always occurs at an inconvenient time, like on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend. Putting your management head in the sand will not make the problem go away, it will only make it worst. Taking action early in the workplace dispute development is usually the best solution, with the most excellent chance of success.

Not dealing with a conflict that is escalating quickly, many managers found themselves frustrated and overwhelmed which could add fuel to the case, potentially affecting the decision-making process and the capability to contain and resolve the situation comprehensively. Another mistake a manager may make is letting the office politics interfere with resolving the conflict. When office politics interfere with the steps of the solution, staff in the workplace goes camping. Taking sides of either the complainant or the respondent. The team that tries to remain neutral (sitting on the fence) only suffer the ongoing bickering of the two parties. The way that employees perceive situations in the workplace are essential to resolving the conflicts in the actions to be taken. A biased move (recognized or not) on the managers part may result in more battles and create permanent barriers in the workplace.

The objective of workplace dispute resolution in the first place is to come to an agreement or solution that is practical and realistic for all parties. So it may mean there is a requirement for conciliation to move forward to resolution by the manager.

Taking a page out of Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” book and initially “seek to understand then be understood”.

Sitting down with the employees, listening actively to what they are disturbed about, gathering all the information from both sides and only then attempting to craft a clear picture of what is going on, why and what the options might be regarding resolving or improving things for those caught up in the conflict.

The bottom line is that disputes and conflict in the workplace are not stoppable. Anticipating how to approach these workplace situations beforehand, may put you in a position to be ready to take action when they occur.

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Mental Health Problems and the Workplace

Recently there has been bigger mindfulness of the impact of mental health problems on individuals and the workplace. The economic impact is realized through direct treatment costs to the health care system as well as indirect costs, such as reduced or lost productivity due to absenteeism.
Mental health problems account for about half of employee absences due to illness each year in Canada for example, 3.5 days lost per employee per year are due to mental health problems. It is estimated that mental illness results in 35 million lost workdays each year in Canada.’
Employees living with mental health problems may feel and behave out of character at home and work. There may be feelings of things not quite right, yet they are unable to pinpoint the problem. Their co-workers, supervisors and family members may start to notice a change in mood and behaviour.

Signs that indicate an employee or colleague may have a mental health problem are:
· Regular late arrivals or often absent
· Lack of teamwork or an over-all disinterest in working with co-workers
· Lower output
· Increased mishaps or safety problems
· Numerous complaints of exhaustion or unexplained pains
· Difficulty focusing, not being decisive or forgetting things
· Making apologies for missed deadlines or poor work
· Decreased attention or involvement in one’s work
· Working excessive overtime over a prolonged period
· Expressions of outlandish or grand ideas
· Displays of irritation or pointing the finger at others
It is important to highlight that people behaving in these ways may be just having a bad day or week or dealing with a difficult situation in their personal life that may be temporary. A pattern that continues for a more extended period, however, may point to an underlying mental health problem.

Stress is a consistent part of life and work, and it can be positive or negative. Unwarranted hurtful stress through life events, including workplace issues, can contribute to mental health problems. Work itself can be expected to generate a certain level of stress associated with meeting deadlines and expectations, the need to feel valued and the loss of control over one’s time.
There are many causes of workplace stress. One key to effective stress management is maintaining awareness of the potential stressors and readiness to address them before they become problematic. Some of the most critical sources of work-related stress are listed below.
· Poor communication
· Incongruity in work demands, individual ability and amount of control over working practices
· Work overload and work underload
· Shift work and/or night work
· Segregation, isolation and/or unstructured support for home workers
· Short-term contracts
· Role conflict, uncertainty and changing roles
· The uneven weight assigned by management to consultation, support and control
· Lack of training for managers in communication and people skills
· Idleness
· Uncomfortable physical workspace
· Introduction of new technology, if not planned and gradual
· The culture of presenteeism, in which an employee feels the need to be seen working at all times
· Work-life imbalance
· Home-based stresses that support or feed off of work-based stresses

Managing workplace stress can include training for employees to raise awareness about the causes and effects of stress, as well as to learn skills for coping with stress at work and in their personal lives.

Research has shown that some job stressors are worse than others, such as jobs that continuously involve imposed deadlines over an extended period and give individuals little control over the day-to-day organization of their work (high demand/low control). These jobs can lead to more than double the rate of heart and cardiovascular problems. As well as significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression and fell of being undermined. High demand/low control jobs also lead to substantially higher alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drug use, and a significantly higher susceptibility to infectious diseases.’

Jobs that require high physical or mental effort but offer little in the way of compensation, status, financial gain or career enhancement (high effort/low reward) also affect employee stress levels. These jobs are associated with triple the rate of cardiovascular problems and significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and conflict-related problems

The health of workers does not have to be compromised by stress. Changes to the workplace can make for a more mentally healthy workplace, especially when employees feel adequately rewarded and have greater control of their work.

Mental health problems can seriously affect someone’s ability to work. If left untreated and the mental health problem worsens, the employee may need to stop working altogether.

On the other hand, employees may try to continue to work knowing that they are not performing to their usual standards. If mental health problems are acknowledged early, and proper treatment is obtained, most people can quickly return to their regular performance at work, and much unhappiness and suffering can be avoided.

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