Coping with workplace tension and anxiety

A manager with a human face would be popular and respected by his staff

Coping with workplace tension and anxiety

We spend considerable time during our productive years working for ourselves (self-employed) or for someone else. Where there are human beings, there are interactions, both nice and sometimes not so nice.

No one could expect a ‘perfect’ work environment where one could work all by oneself.

There will be interactions with others, whether one agrees or accepts this reality or not. Coping with the consequences of interactions with fellow human beings takes considerable time. If these were not resolved satisfactorily, then work and productivity would suffer, which is a matter of serious concern.

Some of the workplace tensions are caused by the way the set up is organised. In an organisation, a hierarchy exists, where an employee reports to a higher up.

It must be stated that such hierarchy is necessary otherwise work would be thrown out of gear and confusion would prevail bringing a bad name to the organisation as being unreliable or being unprofessional.

However, the trend is to restructure an organisation so that the chain of command is shortened with fewer supervisors and managers to report to. It might sound strange that in huge organisations, sometimes, the employee might not even know for whom is he working, though that person is aware of the immediate superior.

Understand employees

The boss-to-employee relationship is one of the main factors for anxiety and tension. Not everyone is blessed with a humane manager who understands employees.

The ‘top-down’ approach means the boss expects the employees under his control to obey the orders without questioning. Such an arrangement worked well in the past. However, with better qualified and experienced youngsters, such an approach might not work.

Employees would like to know from the boss why a certain order has to be executed the way he wants even without discussing the methodology of how to go about and its consequences. “The boss knows best,” is no longer accepted as gospel truth. Here lies the first hint of trouble and bad relations between the boss and his employees. No one likes a fiat from the boss.

People want to be involved in every step of planning and decision-making. If the boss sees reason and involves the employees to be part of the decision-making then half the problem is resolved.

But, unfortunately, a few managers think this would mean an erosion of their authority and resist every attempt of employees to muscle in at the stage of planning and decision-making resulting in bad vibes with all concerned.

An employee is unhappy when the boss does not accept his idea. The boss’ interpersonal skills are sorely tested when he has to convince the employees why a certain idea or suggestion was not accepted.

The manager has to be gentle but firm to explain why it was not practical. At the same time, the manager should appreciate the employee for the idea.

The boss-employee relation is based upon an unequal power structure. The boss wields considerable power over the employee, which cannot be questioned under normal circumstances.

That does not mean, however, the boss could be arbitrary and dictatorial. A harmonious working relationship and understanding between a boss and an employee would go a long way in clearing up misunderstandings and reduce tensions and anxiety.

An employee respects a boss not out of fear but because he is more experienced and knowledgeable. The manner by which a manager treats his people would go a long way in setting up a workplace that is open and free from worry and anxiety.

If the boss is nitpicking, people get fed up and would try to solve problems themselves rather than seek the help and guidance of the boss who is seen to be unreasonable and not so helpful.

“That is your problem,” could upset most employees when they approach a boss for help or guidance. If the manager is unsmiling and puts on a tough appearance employees are taken aback and would hesitate to approach him for seeking solutions to their problems. A smile costs nothing but wins friends.

Much of the problem of anxiety and tension at the workplace could be related as to how the manager deals with his people. A manager with a ‘human face’ would go a long way in building better relationship with the employees under his charge.

Each human being is different and has his own personality. In a group, people of different personalities work together. Some are helpful, others are not so helpful while a small number of them are misfits out to create trouble.

With such a heterogeneous combination, it is no wonder there are problems between the co-workers in a team. Such a set up is a sure recipe for trouble, tension and anxiety.

The manager has to understand and appreciate the difference among his people and see that the relations do not get derailed by a handful of misfits. Fighting and quarrelling among people in a group leads to tension and anxiety all around that could disrupt normal work till a truce is brought about through managerial intervention.

Counselling by an expert from the HRD department would help to improve human relations. The manager has to target those who are troublemakers and see that their influence is minimised by various measures, short of disciplining them.

Success mantra

Sometimes transfer of employees to different departments would help in improving the relation in a group. The mantra of harmonious working should be preached and practised by the manager who should take a lead in improving relations between the employees by various proactive measures.

A carrot rather than a stick approach should be adopted while dealing with people to improve work environment. 

There are misfits and mavericks in any group. They have to be handled differently and delicately. Some of them suffer from tension and anxiety just because they have to work with others.

They are more comfortable being isolated and with minimal contact with the co-workers. The manager’s skills are put to test while relocating such people in suitable slots so that they too could contribute their mite rather than being branded as being incorrigible.

Troublemakers need counselling though some may never change. That is unfortunate but a reality of life and they have to be handled differently. A few such individuals could disrupt normal work and bring needless tension and anxiety.

Managing workplace tension and anxiety is related to human behaviour, which is often inconsistent and puzzling. A well-adjusted individual, who has a balanced approach to life, handles tension and anxiety better than those who are also highly tensed up and disturbed.

Sometimes even the most trivial event could trigger anxiety and tension among employees. For example, a rumour about an impending change in organisation, ownership or the boss could be a cause of concern.

Change is inevitable and it all depends upon a person how he handles the anxiety and tension due to any change. Individuals who are calm and composed are an asset to an organisation.

A manager could easily identify such people, who could mentor those who are anxious and tensedall the time. The immediate boss could be a role model for his team members by the manner he handles any given situation. Such skills in an individual are natural but could also be acquired after gaining experience at the workplace.

Counselling by behavioural experts could help in preparing employees so as to face difficult and tense situations with equanimity. This aspect is important in view of stiff competition.

(The writer is a Consultant in Quality & Management)

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