Tips For Making Your Workplace Healthier

Our recent column on the link between a company’s commitment to employee psychological health and an engaged workforce, low turnover, higher productivity and other plusses elicited thoughtful responses from many readers.

Many of you noted how companies that treat employees poorly by failing to involve staff in workplace decisions or tolerating degrading behaviour from managers have a negative impact on customers and clients as well as employees’ families.

Customer service levels and satisfaction fall when employees are unhappy. It is difficult to feel upbeat with clients when the company disregards worker needs for respect, recognition, involvement and control. As organizations become more service oriented, companies that value good relationships with staff will benefit.

Unhappy employees tend to bring their concerns home after the workday. But spouses and children may feel the brunt of workplace problems, join in worrying about the distressed family member and find valuable family time spent “debriefing” from the latest toxic work incident.

Research indicates that staff without time away from the workplace are less productive . When the work environment is unhealthy, customers, families and employees pay and so does the company in increased disability costs, higher turnover and absenteeism.

One reader asked, “How can employees influence a company to care more about staff psychological well-being?”

There are a number of ways to attempt to affect company policy and practices:

1. Staff As Role Models
Organizations can take their cue from employees who model appropriate leadership. Staff can decide to implement healthy practices amongst themselves, treating each other respectfully and fairly despite toxic circumstances. Being willing to express gratitude to one another, give credit where it’s due and ask after each other’s welfare creates a caring staff environment. When staff try to help each other during difficult times, an increased sense of well-being and camaraderie can result.

2. Talk To Each Other
Take some time away from the workplace to discuss the issues you face and what changes you’d like to see. Identify the problems in your organization and decide on solutions you’d like to try. Be sure to draft solutions that employees can implement themselves as well as those that require organizational support. Being able to pinpoint areas in which staff have some control is key.

3. Identify A Supportive Manager
Make a sympathetic supervisor aware of staff concerns and solutions employees would like to attempt. Ask the manager for his or her input and support for changes in practices towards employees. A supportive manager may have suggestions for employees that would help her influence the organization in the long run. For example, a manager may suggest staff write their concerns down so she can bring them to senior management. Helping managers get the message to the company is important.

4. Conduct Interviews
It can be helpful to interview workers who are finding satisfaction at work, work well with “difficult” people or managers or who seem to have a different perspective. What are they doing at work that increases their success or satisfaction? What do they do to be effective with a struggling or intimidating manager? By talking to people with different experiences, one can get tips on how to make the organization a better place to be or how to adjust expectations and behaviour to match company goals.

5. Use Proper Channels
Planning to push the organization towards a change in practices towards staff can be difficult. Yet some employees have been successful in getting changes implemented. Using the channels available within the organization has helped some staff build a case, document the issues, generate solutions and present the findings to the company.

Identifying how to use the company’s internal communications system is the first step. Some companies have both informal and formal channels that need to be identified. If a policy for giving feedback, making changes, grieving or offering suggestions, exists it may be helpful to take advantage of it.

6. Detach From the Organization
Staff can sometimes detach from their company without becoming indifferent towards other employees. In cases where change appears impossible, accepting the situation can be important. Letting go of trying to change someone or something can take practice but may be a relief. Staff may be tempted to try to take too much responsibility for how the company functions. This is particularly true when employees are professionals, or extremely committed to their jobs. Biding your time, accepting the limits of your influence and role may be important to remaining healthy in a difficult workplace.

6. Remember Your Choices
Sometimes a workplace is not amenable to change, or staff expectations don’t match organizational needs. While leaving may be difficult to do – especially if an employee has spent a long time at one company – it may be the best solution.

Whether an employee decides to leave or stay, making a choice is what’s important. If staff decides to stay on, finding ways to make the workplace work for them is key. Life is too short to spend a lot of time enduring an unhealthy environment.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at sunmail@newmangrigg.com

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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