Work pervades our lives and very simply, defines us and what we are all about. It determines where we spend about a third of our adult lives, gives us our professional identity, decides our standard of living, where and how we live and where our children study. Evidently, our workplace is the fountain head of much of what we experience in our daily lives. Quite naturally, an employee would always dream of an ideal workplace, where they get to work in a facilitating and enabling environment, which lets them fulfill their professional and personal aspirations. At the other end, the employer would like to have a worker, who is not only proficient but is also dedicated, sincere and result-oriented. Should the twain meet (which happens many a time), it can result in a situation, where everything is just hunky dory. But sadly, the predominant reality is starkly different.
In the modern workplace, workplace challenges have become a common source of stress. Of course, it would be impractical to expect a workplace where the roles, expectations, and personalities work in perfect tandem, without any conflict. And a happily-ever-after kind of scenario! But then, we all know well how many marriages are made in heaven! The reality bites and results in several workplace challenges, which work to the detriment of both the employees and the employer. Remember, an employee’s workplace challenge is hardly ever entirely personal; it mostly becomes an organizational problem, which can lead up to a severe crisis in many situations.
Common Employee Problems
The top eleven workplace challenges faced by employees globally are
For a new employee, learning how to assimilate himself into a new work culture can be frustrating, sometimes. A good idea in such cases is to know coworkers by working in teams, which not only fosters common interests, but also helps build trust and friends. Asking a question may cost something but not asking costs even more. So if you don’t understand something, do ask in a friendly and respectful manner. There is nothing like a one-size-fits-all work culture, says Ritu Singal, a well-known corporate counselor and entrepreneur herself. There are companies which encourage casual dressing and come-as-you-please office timings but there are many more which have stricter rules. She recommends a well-defined policy of acculturation for new recruits else they tend to take many things for granted and flounder. Your attitude, manners, and work habits – all of them indicate that you are a professional.
Office gossip is almost inevitable. But many a career has been marred by petty office gossip. You never really know the real intentions of the guy with whom you are gossiping during lunch time. The guy may be provoking you to come out with negative things by making negative comments about your boss. Avoid the trap! As far as possible, stay away from office gossip. It travels faster than you think!
You need to wait to earn the co-workers’ trust to let them be on board with your ideas. Listen and observe before suggesting any changes and adopt a solution-oriented approach. Try to be clear-headed, fair and reasonable.
Mistakes happen all the time. There are a necessary evil, so to speak. Admit them, apologize and move ahead. Offering excuses or covering them up compounds the problem. Try to evolve a solution and fix the problem at the earliest. Forgive yourself, and move on.
Getting Along with Boss
The “boss problem” seems to be the boss of all workplace challenges. The problems faced by employees with their bosses can be emotionally and physically taxing. They often result from a boss’s style of work, which is often a function of his personality, too. But no less common reason is the employee’s work style. In such cases, from an employee’s perspective, the first thing to do is finding out what the boss does/ does not do that upsets him. The next thing to do is ask why. Obviously, it is helpful to examine the problem from both the perspectives – yours and the boss’s. Think up a plan about how to talk it out with the boss. While doing so, do not blame, accuse or vent your anger. Angry people drain their energy easily and can create unpleasant situations. Instead, try using the collective “we” approach, thereby pointing to your feeling of organizational belongingness.
Problems with coworkers
Among workplace challenges, the problems with coworkers should rank pretty much at the top. Luckily, most workplaces are populated by regular, normal, everyday people. But, in the event of a coworker being a difficult person, you’ll have to polish your interpersonal skills a bit.
You just cannot decide to have the kind of colleagues you would like to work with. The trick lies in dealing with them tactfully, while minimizing your problems on the way. Learning to handle difficult coworkers, bosses and customers is a skill worth trying. Similarly, trying to tide over workplace challenges can be difficult but is also rewarding in the long run.
Some coworkers enjoy the negativity they spread. They dislike their jobs and the company. A coworker may love to chew gum loudly or bring personal issues toe office. Another one may suffer from personal hygiene problems. You need to tackle them upfront if you want to have some peace at your workplace. You need to develop courage and confidence to make it clear to them that these coworker problems annoy you and lower office productivity.
Lack of Communication
Most employees today face the big challenge of understanding different communication styles at the workplace. To be effective, communication has to be understood properly by the recipient, as intended by the sender. A lack of such effective communication impedes the team efficiency and also adversely impacts the employee’s trust with each other and the management.
Quoting from the horse’s mouth, Ritu Singal, a corporate counselor, who has successfully managed a 400-strong workforce, “Though communication problems are related to a range of office obstacles, I believe it mostly implies managing different perspectives effectively.”
A Google survey reveals that corporates with open communication channels have happier, more productive and satisfied workers. Such a system fosters creativity, too, she adds.
A tried-and-tested, powerful tool Ritu Singla recommends to employers is to make their employees speak openly and fearlessly by saying “let’s know more”. Besides being useful when you don’t grasp something, it is also helpful even when you think you know what the employee is trying to say.
Lack of Training
There are companies, which simply throw their new employee into the ring, compelling him to learn on his own through trial and error. And then there are others, which provide formal training, but not in the right manner. Both of them are equally bad for business performance.
To draw the best out of an employee, formal, structured training is a must. An effective training must be related directly to the employee’s job description. It must address the question of how an employee can best achieve the objectives attached to his position. In addition, the training program must focus on accountability. Each skill taught needs to be paired with performance accountability, which necessitates that the employer should measure each employee’s progress. In many cases, training never finds another mention after the initial round. Another important aspect of having effective training is having the right trainer for the task.
Quite frequently, these training classes are conducted by the human resources people, who know a lot but lack any practical experience of the subject. Having on-the-job hands is a great idea, instead.
Ritu Singla has come across hundreds of cases of workplace stress. The reasons could be multifarious: overwork, lack of a clearly defined role, stagnation, bullying etc.
She tells us about a police officer coming to her with many stress-related symptoms due to his job. 42-year old Gunjan Sharma faced high pressure due to the high demands of his profession. As a result, he was facing sleep difficulties, a waning appetite, muscle tension and headaches.
She helped him identify thinking patterns that contributed to his stress e.g. having unrealistic expectations of himself. He used to focus excessively on the small mistakes he had committed, while totally ignoring the praise and positive feedback he often received. He was trained to learn meditation and breathing techniques to reduce his stress level. With the help of counseling, he could adopt a more realistic approach and accept that mistakes are inevitable while also acknowledging his good performance. Besides, Gunjan was advised to create work-life balance with exercise and relaxation.
Lack of Employee Recognition
Few employers really understand the high of getting a pat on the back for something good you have done. Using praise and recognition economically is certainly not a good workplace idea. Though it’s nice to receive awards at the workplace, a frequent Thank You is a far bigger motivator. Recognition doesn’t always have to be in financial terms; rather, beyond a certain level, it hardly ever works. What matters far more is the value placed by an employer in an employee, which is displayed by tokens of appreciation like Letters of Appreciation, Employee of the Month, Star of the Year awards etc. They last a lifetime unlike cash, which is ultimately burnt, sooner or later.
In this context, it would be relevant to point out that one major cause of employee discontent in many companies is the lack of transparency and clarity in terms of the parameters used for giving such recognition. So instead of motivating an employee, it results in annoying many others. The moral is- keep it open and clear.
Ineffective Performance Appraisals
In a typically ineffective performance appraisal, the boss does all the talk despite not knowing what is being talked about. To make such performance appraisals really effective, the employer needs to recognize the stakes by doing a lot of homework. A superior needs to use the employee’s job description to review his performance besides taking the employee’s own assessment about his performance and then look for performance gaps. And as a standard practice, the superior should first focus on the employee’s strengths before coming to those areas that are in need of improvement.
Bullying isn’t confined to schools, colleges or playgrounds only. Not only does it lead to permanent psychological scars, but also adversely affects the worker’s performance as it doesn’t let him put in his best in the job. The bully could be anyone, but mostly it’s a person in a position of authority, influence or control. The object of bullying is mostly someone who is relatively powerless, has little control over his circumstances and has little access to redressal.
Workplace bullying can range from condescending behavior and gossiping to exclusion or even violence. Try to handle it on your own by confronting the bully calmly and confidently. Tell him that his comments/actions offend you and offer him a chance for improvement. But you also need to be prepared for the consequences as bullying can often escalate once the perpetrator is exposed.
A smart tactic is making your superiors aware of the good work you are doing. This is helpful as bullies often try to spread rumors about your not doing your job well. A fear of retaliation prevents many employees from reporting such bullying to the employer. Keeping a record of the bully’s behavior and speaking to a trusted person within the company can also help.
The 20-something Sargun was being constantly bullied by a relatively senior co-worker, thereby making her work environment quite uncomfortable. She came to develop a strong feeling of anxiety before going to office and often absented herself to evade it altogether. But it didn’t help her and that’s when she visited Ritu Singla.
She was made to realize that she didn’t have to accept the office environment as a foreordained reality and was helped to think of the steps to be taken to feel more comfortable. She was advised to speak to her boss about why her work was suffering, and advised to have a meeting with her co-worker and the boss. Many fruitful discussions later, Sargun came to feel more confident about dealing with her coworkers.
Being Overlooked for Promotion
Imagine having worked hard to get it for so long, having waited for it anxiously to break the news to your spouse. But….. once more, it’s your colleague in the next cabin who gets promoted. Being refused something never makes you feel good about it, but you need to accept it graciously and not whine or complain about it. For employers, the key to avoiding such issues lies in implementing open and transparent systems, says Ritu Singla, who has established such systems in her organization. If the performance deliverables are known to the worker in advance and regular performance feedbacks are provided, there would be little reasons for such complaints.
Still, if you aren’t exactly happy with the management decision, here is a sensible thing to do: Meet your boss to talk about what you can do to earn a promotion next time. You may learn many surprisingly new things about yourself and how your superiors look at you and their work expectations. To make a strong case for yourself,
- List down your past successes and the major projects successfully handled to let your coworkers know of your accomplishments.
- Keep up learning new job skills / updating job skills to keep yourself marketable and in demand.
- Display initiative and leadership to improve the company performance.
- If your boss allocates a lot more work than you think you should get, thank yours tars! He does so because he trusts you with newer responsibilities. So be proactive and welcome new responsibilities!
- Learn from your seniors in the organization.
- Let your boss know about the hunger you have to move up.
Hitting the Glass Ceiling
If you feel that you have gone as far as you could with the present employer, you may have reached the “glass ceiling.” You can see through the ceiling to the next position but you don’t seem to be able to reach it. Besides working towards promotion (see above), you may combat the glass ceiling effect by
- Proving your worth to the employer and identifying which traits and skills they look at the time of promotions.
- Talking to your superior about your career goals and how to achieve them.
- Nurturing your relationships with co-workers
Future-proof yourself by anticipating the future and minimizing the effects of shocks from future events with the right strategies.