Controlling workplace emotions
With employment relationships under severe covid-induced pressure, Jo Douglas offers some timely guidance on how to deal with behavioural issues in the workplace. In what has been a difficult year, employers are seeing worker emotions bubble over – manifesting in aggressive behaviour and allegations of bullying, unnecessary anger and outbursts. If you look at most […]
With employment relationships under severe covid-induced pressure, Jo Douglas offers some timely guidance on how to deal with behavioural issues in the workplace.
In what has been a difficult year, employers are seeing worker emotions bubble over – manifesting in aggressive behaviour and allegations of bullying, unnecessary anger and outbursts.
If you look at most company policies under serious misconduct, aggressive or verbally abusive conduct will be listed there as a potentially disciplinary offence. Worksafe tells us that “bullying” is a hazard in the workplace, so employers must do something when this happens.
But in the current environment should an employer be quick to discipline or dismiss?
From what I’ve seen, people are at their breaking point emotionally.
Lockdown restrictions appear to have kept people relatively safe from physical harm. However, it is not clear yet what will be the other emotional or social effects for those that have been under immense personal pressure from the result of being restricted to their homes.
People have been separated from the usual outlets that keep us sane – entertainment, church, art, sport, friends and extended family – life outside the home, life at work and in the community. Quality connections with others.
“It’s almost always OK to allow workers a second chance to correct their behaviour. You may, of course, need to monitor things closely to make sure everyone stays safe.”
I had a client recently ask me if it was OK not to terminate someone’s employment and give them a second chance. There had been an aggressive outburst where property was damaged.
It’s a nice question to receive, because most of the time as an employment lawyer I’m asked the opposite – is it OK to terminate?
The answer’s simple. It’s almost always OK to allow workers a second chance to correct their behaviour. You may, of course, need to monitor things closely to make sure everyone stays safe.
Sometimes outbursts happen because people just don’t have the personal resources to manage themselves at that point in time. It can be out of character. In that moment, their level of patience, their personal resilience, is exhausted.
What is also difficult, is that many small employers are also at breaking point. Their personal resilience all used up too. So, the employee is who is made redundant and who brings a personal grievance may be the tipping point for that small business owner.
On both sides of the employment relationship, a level of honesty and patience is required. Also, what is commonly required, is something outside of the formal investigative process that by law we must follow.
Employment disciplinary processes are very formal and go down one path – towards termination. What is sometimes required in addition to, or as an alternative to, that formal process is something quite different. It is a level of support which is not always easy to give, particularly if you are that small employer whose resilience bucket is empty.
Some companies have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – a great idea if you can afford it. This is an opportunity to provide staff with support through a confidential counselling service, where they can start the conversation of support with someone completely neutral and who is professionally trained in providing that type of support.
Other companies may provide access to training and/or coaching services. Commonly, coaching is seen as an expensive investment available at executive level only. But it doesn’t need to be. Coaching services can be tailored to employment relationships and problems from the bottom to the top of the hierarchy. External coaches are ideal for dealing with those sticky communication issues that won’t be resolved from coaching by a direct line manager.
External support can be better than in-house because of the confidential and neutral nature of the coaching relationship.
Dealing with behavioural issues
An investment in staff is important in difficult times as well as the good. Arguably more so.
I recommend to my clients that they consider a range of strategies for dealing with behavioural issues in the workplace, where they appear to stem from an emotional or psychological base. To benefit from this strategy, warning signs need to be identified early. If left too late, both employers and employees can feel that things have already become untenable. Things may be said that are simply too damaging to the relationship.
However, in many situations I believe that things can improve. Sometimes the hard part is having individuals accept that they need help, and must work on themselves. Once you get that level of acceptance, then things can certainly change.
Sometimes too there is a benefit to things blowing up in the workplace. Tensions can be aired and true feelings heard. People can learn the boundaries of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
2020 has been a circuit breaker for many people, who will be reassessing how they want to organise their lives and competing pressures.
Now is an opportunity to reinvest in your staff; to ride the waves of emotions that are coming with the uncertainty and pressure we’re all facing. Remain open minded about how you will expect them to behave and what options there are for responding, for when things don’t go as smoothly as they should.
Jo Douglas is a partner at Douglas Erickson, employment lawyers. email [email protected]