By Linda Kelly, MSW, RSW
I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a pretty common theme about an employer and their employee, and what happens in real life when stress takes over.
The employee, normally a hard worker, has a track record of high achievement, and takes a lot of pride in her work. Changes around the workplace leave her feeling isolated and unsure of her rank and responsibilities. Office gossip and unclear directions from above have left her coworkers feeling that they cannot trust what she says, and should report when she tells them to do something. In this, she cannot delegate. While all the good advice magazines tell employees to optimize their time by delegating the tasks that don’t require their skillset, she is left with her hands tied. And on top of that, it seems that her credibility has been compromised and no one takes her seriously.
She asks her boss for guidance on what to do, and when she takes the advice to stay away from them, other employees begin resenting her. They think she does whatever she wants, that she doesn’t work as hard as they do, that she thinks she’s better than them. They think she shuts herself away in her office because she doesn’t like them. However, she has too much to do, too little time, and she feels uncomfortable being around them in case she offends someone once again, and they file into their supervisor’s office one by one to complain about her. Again.
The mark of a good leader is one who recognizes the quickly changing dynamics within an organization, and addresses issues before they start to infect the company culture.
When the other employees go to the boss, the boss makes the mistake of allowing them to feel justified in their anger towards the employee instead of reinforcing the value of each member of that team, and encouraging them to resolve the issues together.
Vilifying a single employee is shortsighted and destructive.
The company loses out on an opportunity to develop and mature. And when the next employee becomes overwhelmed and their productivity drops, they will know from experience exactly how the boss and the other employees will regard their failures behind closed doors. This will destroy an individual’s sense of self. It will make them feel powerless and helpless, and they will become more reckless because they’ll know that when times get tough, no one will be on their side. And of course, that translates to financial losses and other hardships for the company.
Company cultures thrive when employees are regarded with respect and trust. Operating on the assumption that each person genuinely wants to do a good job, and their efforts, achievements, and mistakes (especially their mistakes) are seen as part of the process, and not as vindictive acts that diminish the value of other team members.
As an employer, you are responsible for looking out for your employees, recognizing the impact of stress on their wellbeing, and taking steps to manage these issues. As an employee, you are responsible for managing your own emotions, for asking for help when you need it, and for placing an upper limit on what you are able and willing to do so that you can protect your mental health.
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