Just Saying You Care Doesn't Mean You Do

By Terry Streather | Mental Health

Aug 07

In this post I want to bring together the worlds of "Wellbeing" and "Conflict Management" by addressing a couple of points. Brace yourself...I'm getting on my soap box again... 

1: Saying you care doesn’t mean you do…

“Welcome back to work Dave (tick) In this return to work interview I’m going to tick these boxes as evidence that we care.

I want to find out how you’re doing (tick) to make you feel reassured (tick) and welcomed back to the family (tick). I know that even though you were so stressed out by the workload and having to deal with angry often aggressive customers that it caused you to become ill, your absence has had an impact on everyone else’s workload (tick), who have had to do your job whilst you’ve been off laying on the couch.

“Now, (pat him on the shoulder) pull yourself together, get back on that horse and let’s provide a fantastic service (BIG Tick) My door is always open (BIGGER TICK). Is there anything else you want to add (tick)?

"Oh, your next customer has been waiting in reception for twenty minutes with a complaint”

The manager walks down the corridor past the “Investors in People Silver Award” Plaque on the wall.

Ok, exaggerating a little. But it’s my blog so I can.

And to be clear, I think “Investors in People” awards are fantastic for organisations to aspire to. Performance is measured in 3 key areas: Leading, Supporting and Improving, and I love this quote from Paul Devoy- Head of Investors in People:

Put your people at the heart of your vision and they’ll use their talents to achieve it.

But is it all just window dressing?

I wonder how many organisations really are putting their people at the heart of what they do. Are they really “investing” in their people? For example, if an organisation knows or suspects their staff are stressed- what are they doing about it?

And I mean REALLY doing about it. Not one-off wellbeing workshops over a lunch break or putting an article about Quinoa and coconut water on latest news.

Perhaps you’ve seen articles on the intranet at work that preach the wisdom of getting enough sleep, making health choices, making connections with colleagues and cycling to work etc.

“Look how much we are doing to look after the wellbeing of our staff! We have pages of information and advice right here!”(BIG TICK)
But the left hand is not talking to the right hand…

That same organisation wants Dave to do the job that 4 people used to do; and to work the most ridiculous shift pattern and "Agile working" using an ipad or laptop on his own most, if not all, of the time.

As a result he is never at home to have that “work life balance” advocated on the wellbeing page, and never sees his wife (who feels like a single parent) and kids. He can’t realistically cycle to work because he is expected to work somewhere different every day. But he shouldn’t grumble really. He’s lucky to have a job at all after the last round of redundancies.

So, now all the things that we know help people cope and manage the stresses of daily life aren’t there, the perfect storm is brewing.

Dave’s stress level is near breaking point- he’s already been on the sick because of it, and on his return he is confronted by yet another unhappy customer. In a sudden and explosive outburst, that no-one could have predicted (so the report will say) Dave snaps, shouts at the customer and storms out of the building.

What was he thinking?

The truth is he probably wasn’t thinking at all. Stressed people often react (like a child- impulsive and emotional) rather than respond (like an adult- considered and logical).

“When stress arises unexpectedly and is especially overwhelming, rational thinking tends to be replaced by impulsive and often faulty decision making.” 

Neuroscientist Dr. David Lewis:

In short… stressed people often make bad decisions and are quicker to anger.

There will be a review ofcourse, Dave will have to be disciplined, and “lessons will be learned”.

A spokesperson will say: “Dave should have known better. We tell our staff to be professional at all times, and use their communication skills.”

News flash… not everyone has those communication skills.

If we are expecting Dave to deal stressful situations, foreseeable hostility or aggression, often aggravated by language barriers; learning difficulties; alcohol; drugs; mental ill health etc, what has the organisation done to lead, support and improve Dave’s ability to do it?

Sadly, and all too often, the answer is not a lot.

Managing conflict, or behaviour that challenges and staff “wellbeing” often exist in separate silos. The truth is that they are well and truly connected. And there are statistics to back it up.

488000 Cases of work related stress
45 %

Absence due to Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Changes (100)
Violence/threats/abuse (190)
Lack of Support (210)
Workload (600)

Rate per 100,000

Work related Stress Anxiety Depression Statistics in Great Britain 2016-HSE

In 2016 the biggest causes of stress related absence from work were workload pressures (a wellbeing issue), a lack of management support (a wellbeing issue) and threats/abuse at work (a wellbeing and health and safety issue).

Too much work, not enough support and being threatened or abused. Which leads me nicely to point number 2…

2. Just because I can speak, doesn’t mean I can deal with conflict

Boss: “I want you to fix the engine on that boeing 747’

Staff: “But, I’m a car mechanic, I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Boss: “Yeh but you know how to use tools, and it’s just a big engine. You’ll be alright, just use your common sense…”

Seriously?

It wouldn’t happen in other fields so why does it happen so routinely in customer service or front facing roles?

And those most at risk include: healthcare workers; teachers; business, media and public service professionals.

Some staff have the power to restrict people’s liberty and use force. And when they do, their decisions are scrutinized over weeks, months and sometimes even years. These are good people, who were likely drawn to their role out of a desire to help and make a difference.

How often are working conditions and stress taken into account? All too often the focus is on the actions of the individual, with the wider factors that contribute being ignored.

Does the organisation not share some of that responsibility?

Summing this all up then...

Good employee wellbeing should be at the very heart of everything an organisation does, from the very top to the frontline. It is very much a journey, not an event or a workshop. The best companies in the world understand that by creating a culture of engagement and involving their people, especially in difficult times, they get the best from them. It’s a Win-Win.

Achieving awards that say you care is one thing... actually meaning and showing it is another.

Customers will never love a company unless the employees love it first. 

Simon Sinek April 2016

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About the Author

Terry is Director and Head of Training at Oakwood. He helps clients promote a proactive, rather than reactive approach to both personal safety and the positive mental health of their staff. He has over 12 years teaching experience in these areas, and advises organisations in the development of appropriate risk assessment and policy.