Workplace problems are varied, and can stem from a variety of sources. In a small business environment, employees often wear many hats and are responsible for a number of tasks. Teamwork and collaborative needs are also significant in a small business, which means conflicting personalities and differing work styles can sometimes clash and result in strife. Understanding the underlying causes of workplace problems can help savvy business owners to develop proactive measures. That way, they can address and head off issues before they hurt productivity and morale.
Lack of Training
If an employee doesn’t know how to do his job correctly, it can lead to workplace problems that have a negative impact on your business. Hire only qualified individuals and conduct comprehensive orientation and training before they being work. Provide ongoing evaluations and performance assessments to ensure employees fully understand the responsibilities of their positions and are performing their jobs as effectively as possible.
Everyone has a different personality, though vastly differing personalities tend to be more evident in a small business environment. Diversity can be good for a business in many ways, but if clashing employee personalities have a negative impact on the workplace, on morale or on productivity, it can become a problem. Take into consideration the personal and professional natures of existing staffers when hiring new employees to ensure a good blend of individuals who will work well together.
Colleagues in a small business often work in shared or close quarters, especially in offices and retail operations. This can create proximity tension in which employees don’t feel they have their own “space,” or feel they lack privacy and the ability to concentrate. Personality quirks, such as excessive talking or invading personal space can exacerbate the closed-in feeling and create tension and hostility. Where possible, give employees enough physical room to work without feeling they’re or on top of one another.
Out of necessity, employees of a small business often have overlapping responsibilities. The marketing manager may do double duty as the newsletter editor and the receptionist may follow up on sales leads. Too many responsibilities can create stress and tension. To avoid workplace problems, don’t burden employees with more tasks than they can reasonably handle. Doing so won’t improve performance or work product and can end up lowering morale and creating high turnover.
Employees who aren’t well-versed in interpersonal communication techniques may have a difficult time relating to colleagues, customers and managers. A lack of communication can lead to errors, frustration, missed deadlines and unmet goals. Combat this problem by establishing communication guidelines in your business. Note how e-mails are to be forwarded and copied, how memos are to be distributed and how meetings will be run. Provide workplace communication training, if necessary. This will help to eliminate many potential problems.
How to Deal With Personal Problems in the Workplace
At any given time, every worker is likely to face personal problems that he brings into the workplace. Health challenges, family issues, romantic relationship drama, financial problems — you name it, someone in the workplace is probably dealing with it. If you are that employee experiencing personal problems, you want to face them in a way that places boundaries between you and your job, while utilizing company resources for assistance.
Signs of Personal Problems
Take stock of your behavior while you’re at work and honestly assess how your employer and co-workers may be perceiving you. You might be so wrapped up in your personal problems that you’re not noticing how it shows. If you are consistently late to work, unproductive, take overly long breaks, call in sick frequently, miss deadlines or turn in shoddy work on a regular basis — then your personal problems are affecting your work in an obvious way that can be noticed by people in your workplace. Other signs include behavioral issues, like being rude to other colleagues, an explosive temper, erratic behavior leading to injury on the job, sleeping at your desk, neglecting personal hygiene or isolating from colleagues. You need to proactively address these issues before your employer pulls you aside to give you disciplinary action.
Speak to Your Supervisor
If you are displaying any of the warning signs that you have personal problems, the first thing to do is schedule a one-on-one private talk with your supervisor to show a willingness to improve. Explain that you are experiencing some personal issues and ask if there’s any way he can cut you slack regarding deadlines, give you flex time or allow you to telecommute. However, you reserve the right to not explain what your specific issues are — as this could raise problems regarding confidentiality. Offer to make up work if necessary or to delegate to a co-worker. Inquire about an employee assistance program to deal with more serious personal issues or ask for some time off. Ask your supervisor what he suggests you do, and show a sincere willingness to get your job requirements met. For example, you could agree to follow an improvement plan with specific goals for you to reach, with periodic meetings or performance reviews.
Disclosing Health Problems
If you have a chronic illness such as diabetes or serious acute condition such as cancer, whether you share that information with co-workers is something you should contemplate ahead of time — because once they know at the workplace, you can’t take it back, as health problems may not go away. It’s tempting to let your boss know why you’re under so much stress or to tell a colleague about your latest diagnosis, but there are risks of sharing such personal information. For example, discrimination can happen, such as being passed over for project opportunities or heavier responsibilities, stigmas can be formed about you if you have a mental health issue or you might just feel like your privacy is invaded when co-workers get overly concerned. Only disclose such information when necessary or to people at work you know you can trust to keep secrets or positively respond with appropriate empathy.
Find out your company’s policy on sick leave and personal days and see if it might be the right time to utilize the allotted days off. Find out either from your HR department or your health insurance plan if an employee assistance program is offered. An EAP could provide you with confidential counseling sessions for issues such as substance abuse, marriage and family problems, financial hardship and workplace conflict — or you might prefer private counseling with a therapist on your own. If your employer is offering you an opportunity to improve your job performance with a disciplinary plan, be willing to adhere to any suggestions and show a record of your progress, so that you don’t risk losing your job.
Ten Tips for Dealing With Workplace Problems fo Educational Personnel
Educational personnel range from teachers and professors, to educational assistants, secretaries, caretakers and cafeteria staff, psychologists, social workers and hall monitors. Workplace problems occur in educational settings, just as they do elsewhere. Educational personnel might encounter problems with their bosses, co-workers, students and parents.
Understand the Context
Most jurisdictions have child protection acts that must be adhered to. If a student or parent makes an accusation against a school employee, accusing her of serious inappropriate behavior, the administration might be bound by law to suspend the employee with pay during the investigation. Understanding this protocol might help the employee realize that this does not necessarily mean her guilt is assumed.
It’s important for a school employee who is facing serious charges or disciplinary action to know his legal rights. Teachers and support staff usually belong to unions that have local reps in the school to help. If the administrators did not involve the union, it is in the best interest of the employee to do so as soon as possible.
Especially when the problem is a minor one with a co-worker, it’s usually a good idea for the employee to be discrete and avoid gossiping to the students or other staff members about the problem. This can help avoid further embarrassment.
Support from Colleagues
Consulting colleagues can be helpful if they have been through similar experiences. They might be be able to provide valuable information, as well as moral support.
Support from Students
If a teacher is facing termination by an unreasonable administrator, it could be useful to have students and parents rally support in the teacher’s favor. A petition by parents might cause the administrator to reconsider the dismissal.
Appeal to Fairness
Educational institutions promote the notion of fairness and due process. When an employee feels unfairly treated by an administrator, meeting with her and rationally pointing out the unfairness of the situation, as well as appealing to her moral sense of doing what is right, might help to get her to reconsider.
Support from the Media
For serious unsubstantiated allegations that lead to termination of employment, the employee might decide to contact the media for support. Although they are unlikely to intervene if the administrators appear to have just cause, they might choose to publicize the situation if they believe the dismissal was unfounded. Turning to the media can be a two-edged sword, consider carefully before doing it.
Respond to Documentation
Most school administrators carefully record all infractions by their staff members. Employees should respond in writing to all allegations, expressing their point of view. The employees’ statements will be filed together with the administrators’ statements.
Know When to Take Action
Never ignore small problems if they have the potential to grow into large ones. Don’t postpone confronting a colleague who is making trouble for you. For example, if students report that their eleventh grade math teacher is blaming you for not preparing them properly in grade ten, you should immediately speak with that teacher.
When an educational employee is confronted by his administrators and warned about unacceptable behavior, it’s beneficial for her to take an honest inward look to determine whether the demand for behavior change is justified. For example, if the employee’s repeated absence at staff meetings has been noted, rather than becoming defensive and denying the charge, she may realize that she has indeed missed several meetings and must rearrange her personal schedule to accommodate this requirement of her employment.
How to Uncover Problems in the Workplace
Whether you’re in the human resources department or a supervisor or manager in another department, chances are, you’ll detect problems in the workplace at some point in your career. You must be able to determine when personalities and behaviors are likely to collide, before they actually do. You’re better able to uncover problems in the workplace if you know your employees, are accessible to them and are open to trusting your intuition.
You can’t possibly uncover problems in the workplace or your department if you know very little about the people with whom you work. Starting from the first day of work, welcome employees and provide orientation so they understand the company’s expectations. Providing an employee with a job description is a terrific first step; however, you have the expectation that each of your employees will put forth his best effort and be enthusiastic about working with you and his colleagues. Whether you explicitly state this, you also have an expectation for employees to interact with you and their colleagues in a mutually respectful manner. Clarifying your expectations is a proactive step to prevent workplace problems; conflict in the workplace is often caused by misunderstanding what the employer wants from its employees.
Evaluation of employees’ job performance is another way to determine whether workplace problems exist, although you may hear about the problems after the fact instead of before they escalate. Conducting regular, timely evaluations of employees’ performance includes a confidential meeting between the employee and her supervisor. Don’t let that meeting become merely a report card about the employee’s performance. Engage the employee in two-way feedback about her performance, help her develop goals and be sensitive to the tools and interaction she needs to be successful. Detecting problems helps employees overcome challenges in the workplace so they can be successful.
Conflict often happens when employees don’t communicate. If they don’t feel comfortable communicating with you or your colleagues — which, in large part, depends on the ability to listen — problems brew until the only way they can be detected is when there’s an implosion of sorts. Stress the importance of communication in the workplace to encourage two-way and candid conversations among co-workers. Importantly, help employees understand the importance of listening, too. After all, about 45 percent of communication is listening, according to University of Missouri Extension agricultural communication experts Dick Lee and Delmar Hatesohl. If you notice changes in the way employees communicate or if their interactions with each other change, you may be able to detect workplace issues early. (See, Reference 2, first paragraph).
Resolving problems is one aspect of your job, but being able to detect problems requires a different skill set all together, usually communication and negotiation skills. Trusting your instinct or intuition to help you uncover workplace issues is perfectly acceptable — some workplace conflict isn’t so easily discernible. Your intuition can serve you well when you can’t quite put your finger on what’s off kilter in your department or your company. Rely on your own intuition and not the reports you may get from well-meaning but busy-body employees about his counterparts. As a leader in the company, avoid using employees as your spies to determine what’s going on in your department, advises Brian Satterfield in an article on the HR World website.
Above all, show your employees that you can be trusted. Gaining their trust usually means they’ll feel comfortable telling you when they sense conflict with another employee or even if they are having a difficult time interacting with you, as the manager. Be approachable and accessible, then demonstrate you’re credible and trustworthy so your staff knows you’re genuinely interested in maintaining a pleasant and productive work environment.
Examples of Creative Solutions to Common Workplace Problems
Conflict arises in every workplace at one time or another. Rather than let issues fester and resentment accumulate, take active steps to find creative ways to minimize or eliminate common problems. Involve your boss, if need be, but otherwise work to self-manage your issues with colleagues or develop creative strategies for getting by.
It can be difficult to concentrate when your cubicle-mate is talking loudly on the phone, playing music, snapping gum or otherwise conducting her workday affairs at an increased decibel. While the first approach should be kindly letting your colleague know her voice carries more than she may realize, if she doesn’t take the hint, consider self-preservation techniques. Wear noise-cancelling headphones or listen to music with ear buds, buy a white noise machine to muffle ambient sound, or ask to be moved to a different location in your office.
If you’ve ever been on deadline, and you can’t get a talkative co-worker out of your office, the feeling can be maddening. Straightforward solutions include closing your office door or posting a sign on your workstation that denotes a deadline in progress. If those techniques don’t work, and the colleague doesn’t take the hint when you say you’re on deadline, proceed like she isn’t there. Continue to work, focusing only on what’s in front of you. If she interrupts you, don’t take your eyes off your work, simply repeat the phrase, “Sorry, I’m in the middle of something right now.”
If a colleague misses deadlines or meetings or regularly fails to show up to work on time, saddling you with her workload, talk to her about the impact her tardiness has on you. If the actions continue, document the problem in a non-threatening way. Send the colleague regular question and confirmation emails and copy the boss. Use phrases such as, “I told the client to call you at 8 but you weren’t at your desk. Have your work hours changed?” or, “Since you weren’t able to attend any of the new client briefings, I’m attaching a copy of the meeting notes for your reference.” Not only does this approach give your boss a heads-up and put the colleague on notice, it also gives you documentation if any of the co-worker’s poor behavior ever comes back to reflect poorly on you.
“Borrowed” Office Supplies
Some people feel anything not bolted down in an office environment is fair game. This includes personal office supplies, candy on your desk, note pads and newspapers and magazines. Invest in a clear plastic lock box for your desk top and store you supplies inside. If anyone asks why the security, simply state that your personal belongings go missing so frequently that the “safe” was a valuable investment.