Thursday, October 30, 2008

Workers Behaving Badly: Why Our Stress May be Bringing Out the Worst in Us

After 9/11, I was struck by the sense of caring we showed for one another. It was a horrible, stressful time, but it seemed to bring out the best in us. We began to look out for one another, even at work. We shared our mutual pain about what had happened, and even expressed our fear for the future. Office squabbles seemed ridiculous, and petty jealousies even more so.

Now it's seven years later, and we're facing another horrible, scary time. We see empty chairs at work, evidence of the people who have taken early retirement or other buyout packages. Almost every one of us know someone who has been laid off. Our own employers have stated they will not be filling empty positions for now.

And yet, office politics are on the rise. Gossiping, backbiting and negative campaigning dominate the airwaves, and we seem to mimic that behavior at work.

So, instead of pulling together on the job as we did after 9/11, we seem to be our own worst enemies right now. Of course, much of that is due to the enormous stress in both our private and professional lives. No one can predict what will happen next week, let alone in the coming year.

If makes workers feel powerless, and that's a lousy feeling. It makes us want to grab whatever we can and hold on, everyone else be damned. But here's the thing: We actually DO have a lot of control right now. We have control over how we treat one another.

It's not a easy thing to admit that we've been a jerk to people we work with, either through our silences or our short-tempers or our snide comments. But we've got to own up to our bad behavior, because until we do, we won't begin to fix what needs fixing.

So, today, I want you to think about the person in the cubicle next door or down the hall. I want you to think about how fear and anxiety has made you and others behave, and what you can do to start making things right.

Remember, the evidence supports the fact that when we are friendlier to one another at work, when we genuinely care about one another, we are not only happier but more productive. And right now, that's definitely a very good thing.

What are some ways to improve relationships with others at work?


Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful post. I have noticed people being really impatient with one another. I know that I am exhausted trying to keep up with the work of three people (two positions have not been filled and I'm doing that work now). It's hard to care about a job when you don't feel like the company cares anything about you and you're just a commodity to them. You're right about how each of us can improve the way we act toward one another. Thanks for the reminder.

Anita said...

For many, work has become long, pressure-filled days. I think the greatest thing we can do for ourselves -- and other people -- is to find ways to release stress. Go for a walk on a lunch hour, order a pizza for the office, or just remember to take a deep breath the next time you want to send a nasty email or make an unkind comment.
Thanks for sharing your story.

Anonymous said...

I recently got into a spat with a co-worker. She was really snappy with me in front of everyone and it seemed disrespectful so I sent her email letting her know my concerns and she suggested we talk it out. We did, respectfully, and we both apologized, and everything is fine.

I think the reason this turned out so well is that office peace is a priority for both of us, and so is respect, so we made it our job to resolve this peaceably for all involved.

Office peace is so important right now, work should definitely not be a source of stress and dread for anyone.

Anita said...

Good for you and good for your co-worker! Too often, one misunderstanding gets blown out of proportion, and before you know it, people are spending more time gossiping about it than they are working. Let's hope everyone takes personal responsibility for workplace peace. You're a great example.

Trendster said...

"What are some ways to improve relationships with others at work?"

One way is to have more face-to-face conversations instead of relying on email. As Erika posted, she and her coworker talked it out.

What you say in an email can easily be misinterpreted, especially by someone you're already on shakey ground with.

Another thing I try to do is delay my reaction/response to something someone says or does that bugs me. Relax, calm down, let it go if it's no big deal... put everything in perspective. This could go along with the email comment--never send an email when you're upset. Sure, go ahead and write it if it helps you vent, blow off steam, and feel better... but do NOT hit Send! Think about it overnight. Nine times out of 10, you'll save yourself from making a big mistake.

Great topic, Anita!

Anita said...

You are so right! I recently received a rather snippy email from a coworker, and while it angered me in the first few seconds, I didn't respond right away. In fact, I talked about it with someone I trusted, then slept on it overnight. When I responded, I sent a professional reply...and she then returned a very nice note. I stopped for a moment to consider that maybe she didn't mean it the way it sounded, and perhaps she was under stress when she wrote it. By not escalating the situation, it was resolved, and now we can both be focused on our work and not some petty squabble. Thanks for such great tips!