Has your work changed?
Is there more stress and uncertainty in your job than there used to be?
57% of Canadians report high levels of stress
1/3 Canadians put work first and let it interfere with family
(Duxbury & Higgins, 2012)
In 1991, according to the Duxbury study on work-life balance, 46% of Canadians reported being satisfied with life. In 2012, it has plummeted to 23%. As many of you know first-hand, the recent economic downturn has led to significant budgetary compressions in the public purse. As a result, many of us working in the helping fields and in the civil service have experienced massive changes: layoffs, reorganizations, job abolitions, changes in mandate, elevated conflict and a lot of uncertainty and fear of what is yet to come. Over the past ten years, I have crisscrossed the country many times to offer compassion fatigue training in nearly every province and territory. During my workshops, I get to meet with public sector employees, health care workers and other helping professionals as well as with management and human resources. Lately, I have been hearing the same words from nearly everyone I meet: “change”, “stress”, “conflict”, “uncertainty” and “overload”.
Is this true for you as well?
For those working in high stress, high trauma areas, these stressors are compounding an already complex work situation, and they can contribute to burnout and compassion fatigue. In their 2012 report Linda Duxbury and Chris Higgins showed that Canadian employees who are struggling with work overload were far less likely to be committed to their workplace, had lower job satisfaction ratings and were more likely to call in sick and to struggle with mental and physical illnesses.
We may not be able to change the bigger budgetary picture. We may or may not agree with the decisions being made at the higher levels of government. But what we can control, is how we cope individually and as a team.
How are we going to manage this new work landscape? I have decided to turn my attention to this pressing issue and collaborate with one of my associates, Meaghan Welfare, in developing a brand new workshop called “Making Uncertainty Work”. Meaghan is a Conflict Management Practitioner and Compassion Fatigue Specialist. She specialises in working in high conflict, high stress workplaces and I have asked her to share some words of wisdom on how to navigate this new climate that so many of us work in.
Q: Meaghan, what, in your opinion, is the source of most stress among the folks you work with these days? What are you seeing as a Conflict Management Practitioner?
A: I see many clients from many different sectors and workplaces and the most common source of stress is the ever-increasing pace of work. The expectations of working faster with fewer resources, working smarter not harder, and doing more with less, is causing serious distress. The result of such philosophies is creating a workplace rife with stress, anger, resentment and conflict. Perhaps one of the most significant changes I have seen in the last few years, directly related to budget cutbacks, is the increase in competitive relationships in the workplace. With limited resources, employees are feeling the squeeze and ultimately fear of job loss. This creates competitiveness in the workplace and is contributing to interpersonal conflict, increased stress and sick leave, and a general dissatisfaction with work. Navigating through these challenging times is hard, even for the most resilient.
Q: How is this impacting individuals? How is this affecting teams? Could you share a case example with us?
This is a big question, I could write for days on this! What I will say is that there are huge impacts on individuals and teams when dealing with uncertainty and change, and the inevitable conflict associated with the two. I was recently working with a team that had been cut back by 50%. Some were given buy-outs, some were placed elsewhere in the organization and some were told they would have to compete among one another for the limited positions that would remain. As you can imagine, things went sour fast. Teams began fighting each other in an effort to prove their worth; individuals began working later hours, doing more and ultimately burning out. As you can see, this is a recipe for disaster. Not only was the team hugely impacted, but the individual’s health and well-being was seriously compromised.
This is not an isolated incident. Many organizations are cutting back and inadvertently creating toxic work environments. Those employees and managers who survive have learned the tools to navigate such situations in an effective way. The new workshop we have developed will look at the tools that I have seen to be effective and provide application opportunities.
Q: What strategies would you recommend to individuals currently struggling with change and uncertainty in the workplace?
I would recommend focusing on what I see as the top three tools:
1) Reflection: Change can be hard for many of us, and it can elicit a whole host of reactions among different people. I would invite you to reflect on what change and uncertainty means for you, in general terms, not just as it relates to work. Are you someone who thrives on change? or does change make you very anxious and irritable? What are your responses to stress? Do you think that these reactions are similar or different to those of the colleagues you work with? In our workshops, we like to focus on individual strengths as well as growth areas.
2) Understanding the Transition Phase: We all know that change is stressful, however, even more stressful is the time between the end of the old and the beginning of the new, the transition phase. The ability to navigate through the transition phase is all about the practice of resiliency. By recognizing our strengths and working on our areas of growth, we will be better equipped to deal with the uncertainty of the transition phase. Our new workshop will assist you in looking at the seven learnable resiliency factors and give you the opportunity to apply them.
3) Embracing Personal Conflict: Conflict can be fun! People often laugh when I say this in my workshops, but I really mean it. Conflict is inevitable and the best strategy is to develop a good understanding of your own responses to conflict and how to welcome conflict as a productive and enhancing workplace force!
Q: Originally, we had designed the workshop specifically for managers, but then we decided to open it up to all staff. Can you speak to that change?
We made this decision for a few reasons: As we began promoting the workshop, we received requests from interested participants in all different positions asking whether they would benefit from the workshop if they weren’t managers. Of course, the answer is yes. It became obvious to us that we needed to broaden the training to include all levels of employees because the message is so important. However, we didn’t want to leave the managers behind. In fact, this is a great opportunity for employees at all levels to engage with one another and get a better understanding about how conflict, change and uncertainty affects everyone at all levels. We will provide tools that are relevant to everyone, and we will do break out sessions that will allow us to focus on the needs of specific groups, including managers, HR, and employees. Please join us on October 17-18th, 2013!
Resources – We Recommend:
1) Online course: “Resilience Balance and Meaning” by Dr Pat Fisher. Click here for more information
2) Conference: Attend our yearly conference that supports people who Care for others. CARE4YOU Conference
Source: Duxbury & Higgins “Revisiting Work-Life Issues in Canada: 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada”