Our work defines our existence – what we are all about. It determines where we spend about one-thirds of our adult life, gives a professional identity, decides our living standard, how we enjoy ourselves, where and how we live and where our children study. Very simply, our work is the fount of all our experiences in routine life.
Quite naturally, an employee always dreams of a workplace, where they can work in a congenial, facilitating and enabling environment, where they can meet professional and personal aspirations. On the flip side, the employer likes to have a proficient, dedicated, sincere and result-oriented worker. Should the twain meet, it can be all hunky dory but sadly, the reality is often starkly different.
Workplace challenges are a frequent stressor in today’s workplace. Obviously, it’s utopian to expect a workplace having roles, expectations, and personalities in perfect tandem, without conflicts and a happily-ever-after scene! But we know how many marriages are actually made in heaven! The reality stings sharp and results in many workplace challenges, which affect the employees and the employer alike. However, the workplace challenge an employee faces is not personal; it mostly turns into an organizational issue, which can create a severe crisis in many cases.
Common Workplace Challenges
Training and development
Several companies literally throw the new employee into the ring, asking them to learn on their own via trial and error. This method is unstructured, confusing, dangerous and takes much longer. And there are others, which do provide formal training, but in the wrong way. Both are equally bad for good business performance.
Formal, structured employee training and development related to job description is imperative to get the best out of them. The training should answer the question – how can employees best achieve the objectives attached to their profiles? Besides, the training needs to focus on fostering accountability. Every skill has to be coupled with accountability, which obviously requires the employer to assess the employee’s progress. Many times, the word training never finds another mention once the initial round is over.
Hiring the right trainer for the task is another important requirement for effective training. Often, such training is given by the human resources guys, who know a lot about people management but have no practical exposure to the subject of such training. Therefore, hiring veteran people with substantial job experience is a much better idea to ensure good learning.
Workplace stress is quite common these days with lakhs of cases discovered every year owing to overwork, lack of a defined job role, no professional advancement, stagnation, bullying etc. It is high time workplace counselling took note of this aspect as it affects employee morale and workplace productivity quite significantly.
I recall the case of Mohan Mattu, a CBI officer, who had visited me with many stress-related symptoms thanks to his job. Mohan Mattu faced high pressure due to the high performance demands of the job he was holding. Thus, he had sleep problems, declining appetite, muscle tension and frequent headaches.
He was helped to identify the thought patterns which were contributing to his stress e.g. having unrealistic expectations of himself. In fact, he focused excessively on the small mistakes at work, while totally ignoring the praise and positive feedback he got from superiors. He was made to learn meditation and breathing techniques to reduce the stress levels. With counseling, he was successful in developing a more realistic approach and accepted that mistakes were bound to happen while also acknowledging his commendable performance. In addition, he was advised to create a work-life balance with regular exercising and relaxation.
Inadequate employee recognition
Really few employers can really understand the import and the high of giving a pat on the back for something good an employee does. Being thrifty with praise and recognition is a bad, very bad management idea. Though getting commendations and awards at the workplace feels good, frequent Thank You’s and Well Done’s are bigger motivators. The employers have to keep in mind that recognition doesn’t always have to be financial; rather, beyond a point, it hardly ever works. In fact, what matters far more is the value placed by an employer in an employee, frequently shown by tokens of appreciation like Letters of Appreciation, Employee of the Month and Star of the Year prizes etc.. Unlike cash, which is going to be burnt sooner or later, they last a lifetime and are always cherished by their recipients.
A major source of employee discontent in many organizations is the lack of transparency and clarity in the parameters of such recognition. So instead of motivating an employee, it annoys many others. Therefore, the moral is clear – keep it open, accessible, clear and transparent to all.
Fitting in a culture
Assimilating into a new work culture is frustrating for the new employee. A good way is to let the new joinee know their coworkers by working in teams. Teamwork serves to build common interests, trust and friendship. Remember, asking a question can cost something, but not asking costs even more; so, if you don’t understand something, ask in a friendly, respectful way.
Your attitude, manners, and work habits indicate you are a professional. It must be kept in mind that there’s no such thing like a one-size-fits-all work culture. There are corporations which encourage casual dressing and come-as-you-please office timings but many more have far stricter rules. Experts recommend an acculturation policy for new joinees else they take many things for granted and flounder.
Office gossip, though inevitable, has spoilt many a career. One can never really know about the real intentions of the guy with whom they gossip. The other one may be actually provoking you to come out with negative comments regarding your boss. Alert: Avoid the trap, stay away. Gossip travels much faster than you may think!
A new employee should wait to earn their co-workers’ trust. Therefore, listen and observe before you suggest any changes. And while at it, be clear, fair and reasonable.
Mistakes always happen, a kind of necessary evil. Admit, apologize and move on as giving excuses can compound the problem further. Try to evolve a solution to fix the problem, forgive yourself and move on.
Suppose while working on a task, due to an unintentional mistake, some issues happened which could delay the target deadline. Remember to
- Not panic!
- Admit your fault and assume full responsibility, whether the mistake was unintentional or not.
- Explain how you are going to lessen the damage.
- Learn your lessons for the future. They won’t correct the mistake, but you won’t lose the manager’s trust.
The “boss problem” is the “boss” of all workplace challenges. These problems can be emotionally and physically taxing. They often emanate from a boss’s working style, very often dependent on their personality. But no less common reason can be the employee’s working style.
In these cases, from the employees’ viewpoint, the first thing to do is find out what the boss does / does not do that upsets them. The next thing is asking why as it can help to examine the problem from both the sides. Make a plan regarding how to talk it out with the boss. Do not blame, accuse or express your anger as it drains energy and creates unpleasant situations. Instead, adopt a collective approach, indicating your organizational belongingness.
An altogether different cake
You were hired for a particular department, but with time and changed requirements, your duties have changed, and you are doing work you were never interested in. Fret not, talk to your manager in a calm, collaborative tone and explain how the tasks don’t match the profile of your interest. While doing so, provide a clear picture of your wants and request them to adjust the work accordingly. Their response may or may not favor you, but it can help your manager think of using your skills effectively without affecting your interest in your work.
Sometimes due to a proactive approach on your part or to fill in for someone absent, you may have to take up some extra work. It may become unmanageable as you need to discharge the extra burden besides your own tasks. To tackle it, explain to your manager that your workload isn’t bearable, besides giving specific details about why. You can request them to add a resource for less urgent work or you can propose setting priorities.
The workplace counselling services need to factor in coworker problems, which rank pretty much at the top of the list. Fortunately, most workplaces have regular, normal people. But, in case your coworker is a difficult person, you’ll have to polish your interpersonal skills a bit. Since you cannot choose your colleagues, the trick is to deal with them tactfully to minimize your own problems. The knack of handling difficult coworkers, bosses and customers is a valuable skill worth learning. Likewise, solving workplace challenges is difficult but is greatly rewarding in the long run.
Some coworkers tend to relish the negativity they create, dislike their job and the company they work for. A coworker may chew gum loudly or bring personal issues to office, while another one may have personal hygiene issues. You need to tackle them boldly if you want to have peace at the workplace. You have to develop the confidence to tell them that these issues annoy you and lower productivity.
Communication, Listening Skills
Most employees confront the huge challenge of understanding different communication styles. In general, to be effective, communication needs to be understood properly by the recipient as intended by the sender. The lack of effective communication obstructs team efficiency and has a bad impact on the employee’s trust level.
Although communication problems are related to office obstacles, they mostly imply a challenge of reconciling and managing the different perspectives effectively.
The corporates with open communication channels have happier, more productive and satisfied and creative workers. A tried-and-tested tool is to make employees speak openly and fearlessly with “let’s try to know more”. Besides being a useful tool when you can’t grasp something, it can also help when you think you know what the employee tries to say.
Due to poor communication, deadlines are missed and work gets done shoddily or not at all. Try to have the following:
An open door policy: With easily approachable managers, the employees can voice grievances whenever needed.
A Clear chain of command: With clear reporting systems, the workers should know who they’re supposed to report in order to avoid confusion and ensure some accountability.
A Clear line of authority: A clear line of authority refers to the number of employees reporting to a specific person. If too many employees report to a supervisor, it will cause confusion and inefficiency.
In an ineffective performance appraisal system, the boss does all the talking despite not knowing what is being discussed. To make them effective, the employer must recognize the stakes by doing homework. The superior should use the employee’s job description to review the performance besides taking the employee’s personal assessment of his performance and locate the performance gaps. And as a standard practice, the superior must first focus on the employee’s strengths before coming to those areas, which need improvement.
Bullying doesn’t happen just in schools and colleges. And caused permanent psychological scars, besides adversely affecting job performance as it doesn’t let the employee put in his best in the job. Mostly, the bully has authority, influence or control and the object of bullying is relatively powerless, who enjoys little control over circumstances with little access to redressal.
Workplace bullying can range from condescending behavior and gossip to exclusion or violence. First, try to handle it on your own by confronting the bully calmly and telling him his comments/actions offend you and give him a chance for improvement. But you should be prepared for the consequences as bullying can often graduate to higher levels once the perpetrator is exposed.
Make your superiors aware of the good work you have done. It can help you a lot as bullies try to spread rumors about your not doing your job well. The fear of retaliation keeps many employees from reporting such bullying behavior to the employer. Keeping a record of the bully’s behavior and talking to a trusted person in the company can also help.
The 30-something Gunmeet was being constantly bullied by a senior worker, making her work environment stifling and uncomfortable. She developed anxiety before going to office and often skipped office to avoid facing it. But it didn’t help and that’s when she visited a therapist. She was made to realize that she didn’t have to accept the office environment as an unchangeable reality and that she could take steps to be more comfortable. She was asked to speak to her boss about why her work was suffering and was recommended to meet her co-worker and boss. Much fruitful discussion later, Gunmeet began feeling more confident about dealing with her coworkers.
Overlooked for Promotion
Imagine working hard for long to get it, waiting to break the news to your spouse. But once more, it’s your colleague who gets it. Being refused something never makes you feel good about it, but you should accept it gracefully instead of complaining about it.
The key to avoiding such issues is in implementing transparent systems in organizations. If the worker knows about the deliverables beforehand and there are regular feedbacks, there will be little reasons for such grouses. Despite that, if you aren’t happy with such a decision, here is something sensible: Talk to your boss about what you can do to get a promotion next time around. You may learn many new things about yourself and have an idea about how your superiors perceive you and their expectations of you. To make a strong case for yourself,
- List down your successes and the major projects handled successfully to let your coworkers know of your accomplishments.
- Keep learning new skills / updating job skills continuously to remain marketable and in demand.
- Show initiative and leadership. Present yourself as being concerned and keen on improving the company’s performance.
- If you believe your boss has allocated much more work than he should, thank yours stars! He has done it as he trusts you with newer responsibilities. So try being proactive and welcome new responsibilities!
- Try to learn from your senior workers at workplace.
- Let your boss know about your desire for further advancement.
If you think you have gone to the far end with your present employer, you may have reached the “glass ceiling.” Though you can see through the ceiling to the next position, you cannot reach it. Besides working towards promotion, you may combat this effect by
- Proving your worth to the employer and identifying the traits they look for at promotion.
- Talking to your seniors about your career goals and how you can hope to achieve them.
- Fostering relationships with co-workers
You can become future-proof against all the workplace eventualities by anticipating the future and minimizing the effects of sudden shocks from future events by using the right strategies.
A complicated, fluctuating workplace compounds the difficulty of dealing with these challenges. To smoothen it out,
- Try to keep yourself ahead of the curve
- Encourage collaboration
- Improve the opportunities for training and development
Be ahead of the curve
You have to step ahead of change and accept all that it brings. A good way is to be ready to learn. Read journals, be part of networking groups, get training and keep a close watch on your competitors.
Collaboration becomes easier if the entire workforce understands the organizational values and mission. Once you establish this, ensure that your ethos and systems reward collaboration over individual success. The balance between individual strengths and encouraging teamwork is tricky but it is achievable. If you struggle in your workplace, find a way to voice your concern as collaboration begins with honesty.
Improve the opportunities for training
Irrespective of the roles they play in the organization, your entire workforce deserves relevant and regular training. As a manager, don’t assume that you know best, speak to your employees to know about their training gaps to take suitable action.
Once you have analyzed the results, make sure that the training opportunities align well with your business goals. By developing a culture of continuous training and development, you can improve employee retention and get an up-to-date and motivated workforce.