Business Irish

Saturday 17 August 2019

Post-recession companies becoming more mindful about staff stress

Difficult relationships at work, if not managed correctly, are widely identified as one of the main contributors to work-related stress. Picture posed
Difficult relationships at work, if not managed correctly, are widely identified as one of the main contributors to work-related stress. Picture posed

Claire O'Mahony

'Hell is other people' is one of French philosopher Jean-Paul Satre's most famous quotes and it's a sentiment that most people in a work environment will have agreed with at some point.

Difficult relationships at work, if not managed correctly, are widely identified as one of the main contributors to work-related stress.

It could be an unhelpful colleague, a boss who undermines or an overall culture in an organisation that fosters and accepts behaviours that are stressful for employees.

Quite often it may not be the actual nature of a job that proves problematic but rather the handling of personal interactions that come with it.

For companies to avoid this issue, it means having a competency and values model in place. According to business psychologist Catherine Curran, a senior partner with international consultancy practice Level4, this is something many companies have started to look again, post-recession, to ensure that they're being quite direct about the culture they want to create within an organisation and to set out the values and behavioural standards that they are expecting the company to thrive on and adhere to.

"If there's clarity around the behavioural competencies that we're all expected to uphold, it's much easier as a leader to give feedback to somebody saying 'This is what we're expecting, this is what we're seeing from you and how do we bridge this gap?'" she says.

"Whereas without that it can be a difficult conversation to have because it can get very subjective as you're talking to somebody about their behaviour, which is part of them.

"But if you can link it to what is expected in the organisation that certainly makes it a clearer conversation."

At the individual level, Curran stresses the importance of not keeping things to yourself if you feel that somebody's behaviour in work is inappropriate, whether that involves talking to friends, colleagues or taking it up with a manager or even the person who is causing you anxiety - doing the latter may depend on your levels of confidence or your seniority in an organisation.

"An important thing to be aware of is that sometimes people have no idea that their behaviour is that bad," says Curran.

"Not everybody has the same level of self-awareness and it's critical to bear in mind, and for managers and leaders to keep in mind, that sometimes these things need to be nipped in the bud early. If the person isn't aware [of his or her behaviour] and continues to do it, it then becomes part of accepted behaviour whereas if they're told early on that it's having an impact, it then gives them an opportunity early on to stop and change their behaviour."

Curran advises that it's preferable to try having a conversation first before going down a route of formally complaining, which can be damaging overall for the performance and engagement of the team.

Talking through an issue can also be a good way to for people to evaluate whether it's something that a person has said and how they said it that is upsetting them, or whether it's part of an on-going pattern of behaviour that is the issue.

"You don't have control over the other person's behaviour and you can't change it but, absolutely, there are some practical resilience techniques you can use to put it in perspective for yourself, looking at your own reaction to it and trying to do things that will help that reaction.

"That's where not keeping it to yourself comes in, and talking to somebody else who might help you to troubleshoot the situation," says Curran.

It's also worth remember that our own negative bias might mean we only remember the one unwelcome element in an interaction and disregard the five positives, whereas talking it out might clarify and determine if that is actually the case.

According to Catherine Curran, ultimately it's about seeing the company's and the employee perspective hand-in-glove.

"Certainly with some of the stronger leaders I would have seen over the last couple of years, they are putting as much emphasis into the culture of the people in their organisation as well as the results that they're getting because the realisation is coming through that the wellbeing, engagement and enjoyment of everybody at work is an important part of the responsibility of being an employer," she says.

"People should be able to come into work and enjoy what they do and give their most. They shouldn't feel that they're dreading going in because of somebody else's behaviour, that they have to put up with because nobody is willing to tackle it.

"That might sound very basic - and it is basic - but it's right."

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