Workplace stress is increasingly becoming the most rapidly expanding emotional health issue across the world. Reports suggest that 42.5 percent of the employees in India suffer from some form of depression of anxiety disorder. Other studies suggest that employees go through these issues for over a year before seeking help. We’ve reached a situation where almost every second employee in the country needs help. Multiple factors that have contributed to this sordid state of affairs have their roots both within and outside the workplace. For the interest of our conversation today, I will focus on one of the most dominant factors behind severe workplace stress, loss of productivity, absenteeism, high attrition, and loss of engagement within the workforce.
We can safely assume that interpersonal conflicts and personality clashes have caused more damage to organizations worldwide than any other factor. In the demanding business environment that we live and operate in, it has almost become virtuous to come across as stronger and as more dominant than the person next to you. While ‘bad bosses’ have been universally tagged as the primary source of all workplace stress and other ills, in my experience, personality clashes and conflicts within the peer groups are the real elephants to be addressed in the room. In my experience, teams wherein peers don’t get along are also driven by primary motive of pulling others down. Such scenarios are toxic and difficult to control once such behavior spreads across an organization. However, there are few methods through which an organization’s culture can be remediated and improved to the extent where clashes and conflicts cease to cause distress:
- Look at the bigger picture: Statistics indicate that more than 60 percent of employees do not feel aligned with their organization’s mission and vision. This means that there is no cultural resonance between what an organization espouses as its core values and what its employees perceive to be important values for them to succeed individually. We need for values need to go beyond good looking sign-boards within the cafeterias and become directly linked to the goals of business units and individuals. One way to help people become aligned with the values and the big picture is to have a standard set of goals for every employee. Let profitability of the company be that goal, instead of the profitability of each business unit. When individuals realize that their rewards are linked to the total of efforts put in by every single person, they are more likely to support each other.
- Set the right example: Culture needs to be pervasive across an organization, but it is the responsibility of the top management to set an example. Teams are far more likely to behave the way they see their leaders behaving. If you want to build a culture of cohesiveness but the leaders engaged in a bitter pitched battle with their peers, you are likely to get more of it from within your teams. Cultivate leaders to be the idol that people will follow and set the right example.
- Not every battle is worth fighting: A majority of conflicts and clashes arise over trivial matters, and they are driven mainly by inflated egos. Every time you encounter a situation where you feel like picking up a battle, ask yourself- “Is this battle even worth my time?” You will realize that more often than not, you will walk away from a simmering yet insignificant situation with your head held high.
- Here is a simple way you can test yourself: the next time you get an email from a peer that annoys you and makes you want to respond instantly and escalate the matters; hold on for just five minutes. Fight that impulse to ‘get back,’ and you will soon realize that you are better off not getting bruised in that fight.
- Focus on your response: Several situations are beyond the control of a single individual and it is best if you realize that your response is where your 'power' is. If the situation is incredibly challenging, you may have to tweak your response multiple times before you can conquer it; people also call it 'failing until you succeed.’ As long as you can respond, you have the power. Focus on your response, not on the situation. Your response will take care of the situation.
- Celebrate Gratitude: Gratitude is amongst the most powerful tools that people can deploy to build loyalty, engagement, and raise happiness within a team or organization. Gratitude needs to be a necessary habit rather than a ‘good to have’ quality in your workplace. Regardless of whether you are an individual contributor or a leader, be profuse when it comes to appreciating and thanking people. If you are a leader who is keen on building a culture of gratitude, think about setting up a rewards system that recognizes people for being helpful towards others. Share stories of helpfulness and compassion across the organization; everyone loves a good story and wants to become a part of the next success story.
The tools and tips that shared here are based on two pillars, culture and habits, and neither of them is easy to inculcate. However, it shouldn’t take a particularly sharp business leader to determine that the cost incurred by keeping your team conflict-ridden is significantly higher than the investments made to drive cultural changes. We are living in times of incredible change; technology is changing the nature of jobs, and teams are becoming truly global. In such a scenario, we expect competition to rise, and that will lead to a rise in levels of stress as well. Savvy leaders will preempt this situation and support the holistic well-being of their team members.