Articles

Causes and management of stress at work

Stress is perceived as pressure from the environment which makes a strain within a person. It is the result of the interaction between a situation and an individual which has both psychological and physical effects. Stress is also viewed as a normal reaction that comes from a human being. Bodies are built to experience this for a short time in response to various stimuli. Extra stress hormones and adrenaline are released to help the body when faced with perceived threat. But when these hormones activation gets longer the chemical change wreaks havoc on one’s body whose effect can be detrimental to one’s health and organisations’ success.

The most common stressors today are in the workplace. Employees face an array of demands from strict deadlines, dynamic environments; making ends meets and juggling family life.

As leaders, we may think all is well with our teams but a closer look at some of the manifestations may show signs of work related stress. These include feelings (such as fatigue, anxiety, depression), weak mental capacity (memory loss, difficulty in concentration, problem solving) and physical symptoms (difficulty in breathing, palpitations, headaches etc.). If stress persists it may lead to mental and physical ill health. Staff behaving in uncharacteristically depicting ways like snapping at the boss, or crying over the things they would not normally do, signs of being overly emotional, edgy and highly irritable may be symptoms of stress. While some can even get to the point of missing their lunch break in pursuance of work the effects can be detrimental. Usually, work related mishaps are translated to the family resulting in serious conflicts simply because the relationship between work and family life is likened to a circle. When you are happier at home you perform better at work and when you perform better at work you are more pleasant at home. Employees may however fail to control the circle as proposed especially when they feel beholden to the demands of their employment.

Jeffrey Pfeiffer a guru in management addresses the drivers of stress in a work environment as having negative impact on human health. He cited work overload, overtime, skills underutilisation, limited resources, understaffing, organisational justice and climate, poor working environment as common stressors in the work place. Pfeiffer says that employees are only human and have a life outside work which equally competes for their attention. We have an obligation as the leadership to ensure work demands do not overly affect the social life of employees. Today, long working hours have become the norm for successful employees interested in advancing their careers. They may be a status symbol and have become inevitable in certain roles. As such employees drench themselves under pressure to signal how valuable they are or simply to get their work done; these long working hours have become synonymous with successful careers.

When an employee is dealing with looming work deadlines, difficult work relationships, family problems or bereavement, the body switches to the emergency stress response mode. To counter such workplace and personal ordeals, managers have many strategies they can employ to reduce stress levels in teams. There are more compelling reasons to understand and eradicate the causes of stress in any organisation than pretend its non-existence. Good management practice includes assessing the risk of stress among employees. Management interventions to reduce stress may take two approaches, organisational and individual. Organisational structures affect work relationships, workload (both overload & underload) and how change programme will be managed. Organisational culture may be a main stressor in the workplace. Leadership that is critical, unsupportive, and unresponsive or has bullying tendencies may actually cause more stress to employees. When organisations have open and effective communication channels, organisational stress may be nabbed in the bud. As leaders let us be drivers of organisations’ visions by providing enabling environments and resources necessary for employees to excel in their work.

It is important to note that individuals differ in their risk of experiencing stress and their vulnerability to the adverse effects of stress. Employees need to ensure healthy eating while exercising regularly, these are well known to reduce stress levels. It explains why organisations that provide robust staff wellness programmes have happier employees. Employees may be trained on how to manage organisational stress .The best safeguard against organisational stress is to build employee resilience   through developing their capacities to face, adapt and cope with challenges at work and at home. Learning how to increase resilience and deal well with stress could be an employee most important lesson in life.

William James said,” The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.’ This article has come out of the realisation that the old covenant between employer and employee wherein companies used to offer job security in exchange of adequate performance and exhibition of loyalty has evolved. It’s now also the role of the employee to manage their own careers showing commitment to both the company and their homes. As leaders therefore, our role is to support this commitment.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com

Managing millennials

In this week’s article we share some information about the young and old generation of employees and how to get maximum value from them. Millennial is a name given to a generation also known as the Generation Y, whose dates of birth are generally between 1982 and 2000. Millennials are that employee category that is growing in the workplace as baby boomers retire and Generation X grow older. Baby boomers and Generation X are those people born roughly from the late ’40s to the early ’60s and from the late ’60s to the late ’70s respectively. These brag over their strengths as organisational memory, optimism and willingness to work long hours.

Rapid technological advancements have had a huge impact on culture. Has this impact been greatest on a certain generational demographic cohort? Millennials are said to have a drastically different outlook on what they expect from their employers. Character wise they are known to be very educated, self-confident, tech-savvy, energetic and can multi task. These strengths can arguably make them more adaptable to change than the preceding generations. Organisations should take advantage of these strengths. When embarking on change it may pay off to include employees of this generation in such projects’ implementation structures.

Millennials’ electronic literacy may be used to advance business communication to both internal and external stakeholders. Millennials are also known to incorporate characteristics into new products that appeal to customers of their generation who now also form the largest population of customers.

They also prefer team work rather than working as individuals, so structuring your staff in a way that relies on inter-departmental synergies would see millennials thrive in organisations. Work-life balance and social interaction is of utmost importance to them. Therefore, they value organisations that provide information, facilities and programs for staff wellness.

There is a huge perception that millennials change how work gets done. According to Leigh Buchanan, their social mindset is a significant factor. Besides their capabilities in digital communication, they are primed to do well by doing good. They are renowned for their creativity and experience with search engines and wanting to work on new and tough problems. They are also known for wanting to be given feedback, so formulating a framework of feedback is imperative when managing millennials. One writer mentioned that there is no need for holding feedback to millennials, using few accolades like “good job” makes them blissful. Additionally because of their high levels of energy, they always want to know of their career opportunities and want to be involved in corporate social responsibility roles for visibility.

Having said the above, is there a substitute for time? JMJ Phillip Executive Search   said, ‘hiring a millennial with an MBA to replace the baby boomer with experience is misplaced. It does not   necessarily work that way! Have baby boomers that have been there and have done it in life to mentor and coach a young team.’ These tend to bring different perspectives to issues. When a bunch of people who have the same background get together, it can start to sound like an echo chamber as these see the world from the same lens and fresh ideas are unlikely.

Millenials are becoming the largest population in the workplace and as baby boomers retire, leadership roles can only be filled from the bottom. Millenials are more likely to push for diversity and inclusion than previous generations. Age should largely be considered an important element for diversity. Research has shown that organisations with a mix of generations in leadership roles have been able to weather challenges posed by incessant rapid changes in the operating environment. Though boomers are less likely to be well versed in the latest technology their inherent experience is unprecedented. Millennials are more likely to value and be loyal to companies with diverse management teams. This diversity takes all sorts of forms such as race, age, religion etc. They are also keen on seeking out diverse clients.

Millennials are said to be more flexible and have therefore been transforming the workplace for the last decade. They do not put much value in strict protocol and dress codes. Their focus is on the end results. Would it then help for organisations through leaders to consider flexi time, flexi place and less strict dress codes?

Leadership may invest in communication skills development for younger generations. The importance of effective communication in business may never be over-emphasised. This will further promote their interpersonal prominent characteristic in key areas such as active listening, body language, conflict resolution, negotiations and ultimately team building.    

The question is, will they preserve the fore mentioned characteristics. As they take up leadership roles they may adopt some of their predecessors’ characteristics to push organisations further. Inter-generational workforces were said to have a myriad of benefits and organisations that consider age as a detriment are missing out on the benefits of diversity. As leaders let as continue to mentor younger generations and always bear in mind that diversity hiring or promotions into leadership positions is more strategic.

Does your corporate culture accommodate or encourage Millennials to excel?

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com

Learning Organisations

Businesses continue struggling with the growing competition by introducing improvements into every aspect of their business. They strive to make themselves learning organisations by bringing fundamental changes but rarely achieving the desired results. Have we as Leaders, identified the factors that produce sustained transformational changes? While some of us have embraced the language of intrinsic motivation, we forget to see how firmly mired we are in the old extrinsic world.

Management gurus like Peter Senge have questioned   how an organisation can improve without first learning something new. He says all new business processes require seeing the world from a new light and acting accordingly. In the absence of learning, companies and individuals simply repeat old practices, he says. Changes remain cosmetic and improvements are either fortuitous or short lived.

As leaders we have all unknowingly joined the learning organisations fad. Similarly many other scholars are said to have joined the bandwagon beating the drum for learning organisations and knowledge creating companies. But what exact attributes characterise learning organisations?

According to Senge learning organisations are working places where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire. If such new and expensive patterns of thinking are nurtured, there is collective aspirations to be set free and being allowed to continually learn how to learn together. Yes, to continually learn how to learn together! Such organisations should be skilled to create, acquire and transforming knowledge while modifying behaviour to reflect the new knowledge and insights. Senge suggested the use of five component technologies that enable learning in organisations namely: personal mastery, systems thinking, shared vision, mental models and team learning.

Evidence to date shows that so far most organisations have only worked on implementing the potentials for improvement but without the accompanying changes that embrace learning in the work . In essence, organisations are being effective at creating new ideas and knowledge but less successful in applying the knowledge to their activities. Where as leaders we have used metaphors like organisational redundancy to focus thinking and encouraging dialogue we have remained implementing the potentials only and these on their own have not provide the needed framework for action. The trend in the so called learning organisations has been that of only invoking abstract recommendations.

As leadership, we are being called to become adept and translate the new knowledge into new ways of behaving. Remarkably, learning processes occur by design and not by chance. What makes organisations learning entities is inventing the new knowledge and those specialised activities that shape the way of behaving, making everyone a knowledge worker. Learning organisations need to develop plausible well grounded action plans to enable the learning. As an example introducing learning agents will be a critical strategy. Such learning champions should be empowered to collect and share new learning information periodically leveraging the needed learning and turning events into patterns of behaviour. Continual involvement of key decision makers in the learning project and stringing together the events  will sustain the change.

Clear guidelines filled with operational advice as the means to measure own organisational performance rate and level of learning is a requirement. Some of the measures include distinctive policies and practices responsible for measuring success, development of  systems that capture and share learning as well as empowering people towards a collective vision. The entire organisation should undergo through a how to learn program.

Learning organisations have come to the realisation that the way they have done training in the past will not be the way to mould behaviour for the future. Actively monitored learning and development has come in handy as the strategic imperative for learning organisations.

Ikujiro Nonoka, the Japanese organisational theorist best known for Knowledge Management  says once the above had been addressed, managers now have a firmer foundation for launching learning organisations.

World over the use of the model, “Know me, Entice me, Connect me and Improve me” had been adopted as well. Under this model, parties to the learning process basically bring to the fore those other must dos that enable learning to take place. The know me component wants every learner to be treated as an individual, giving them personalised opportunities to learn using their preferred learning patterns. Entice me- the learner has to be connected to the tools, technological processes and certain people for them to do their job. These can also mean new resources.

Improve me- as was rightfully put by Senge, an organisation cannot improve without first learning something new. There is need for new ideas which will act as triggers for organisational improvement. There is need to work on the learner’s skills, experience and education as well as providing with clears performance targets and guidelines. Reward me- all people want to be rewarded for their contribution. It can be an agreed form of recognition but for learning to be continuous it requires that recognition and appreciation.

In conclusion the role of middle management in establishing learning organisations is critical. These have been known to be close to the action and given enough room can drive the overall strategy to stay on the cutting edge.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com

Current nature of employment relations

At the heart of most effective professional organisations are a handful of best practices for managing the professional intellect. As leaders  recruiting  the best  is a leverage  of intellect that is so great  that  a few topflight  professionals can create  a successful organisation or even make a lesser one flourish. It is however uncontroversial that, employment relationships between employer and employee are of profound economic significance. The way labour is managed determines its welfare and productivity. What is controversial is how best can labour be managed to produce the best.

Premised on the above, organisational leadership constantly has to answer questions like, ‘How can businesses invest and receive the greatest return on intellectual capital to accomplish the organisation’s mission?’ Intellectual capital comprises of  the competence which has to be found in all employees in order to deliver. However, competence is not sufficient on its own, but there is need for employee commitment as well. With competent and committed employees, an organisation has all it takes to being successful. Securing employee commitment means leaders have to involve the employees’ emotional energy and attention. As organisations move with speed and adapt quickly, they have to ensure that at the same time they promote and uphold good employment relations. Such institutions strive to offer work environments that promote communication and working with others to get jobs done. Commitment is reflected in how employees relate to each other as well as to the firm through the leadership. Is it important then to effectively manage the employees’ emotions to avoid increases in stress and burnout? To replace burnout with commitment leadership need to learn to share information as well as treating these employees as valuable assets.

The benefits of harmonious employment relations can never be overemphasised. With high morale and commitment levels, employees feel their interests coincide with those of management and this ensures continuity of production. Studies have also proven that such employees minimise wastage of resources and therefore seek to continuously improve efficiency. One scholarly article says, people-problems such as low morale and commitment are a matter of individual attitudes. Industrial relations revolve around the relationship between actors in an institution and reflect the different disciplinary rules.

The question which the leadership in any organisation should be asking from time to time is are we managing our intellect productively in order to get the best out of your employees. It has often been alleged that, in the case of Zimbabwe where unemployment is so high employers are not necessarily concerned about building employee commitment as much as they would if conditions in the economy were more stable. According to this line of thinking employees in such a situation find themselves being subjected to serious industrial relations challenges which include an assortment of unfair labour practices which include unfair dismissal and suspensions. Needless to say that such practices are counter productive and will not help the organisation to get maximum value from its employees.

Promoting good employment relations involves committing to resolving problems that may arise from situations at work. As leadership we need to appreciate that employment relations play a crucial role in establishing and maintaining industrial relations democracy much needed for the sustainable growth of the business and the economy. As leadership, we should never lose our objectivity and continue to build strong committed teams. Let us always be mindful that industrial relations do not subscribe to frivolous assumptions but always subscribe to the truth and facts.

While industrial relations that prevail in a society is a subsystem of the social systems, It is on the same logical plane as an economic system. Thus indiscriminate firing of employees should not be the panacea .Despite the odds, we should always learn to appreciate the diverse values, ideologies and frame of reference of employees and be guided accordingly.

What has become of that dual approach that works towards what is best for the individual and the organisation? An even playing field yields positive results to both parties. It is our role as the leadership to depersonalise conflict. We need to take out the sting out of intellectual disagreements that turn personal. It is our role to understand cognitive preferences so that we manage conflict productively. Always realise that the other person’s approach is not wrongheaded and stubborn but merely predictable differences. Again in the industrial relations arena no one style is inherently better than the other. Stereotyping is resulting in the leadership failing to take disagreements less personally.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com

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The most effective way of introducing change

The primary difference between winners and losers in business today is their ability to respond to the pace of change. Businesses are trying to make a fundamental change in the way they operate. The pace of change keeps accelerating and organisations keep pouring all their executive energy in search of ever higher levels of service, product, staff satisfaction and agility. As they do so, the treadmill continues to move faster, leaving companies either improving very slowly or not at all.

Studies have shown that the problem is not the change programs but how change is implemented. First and foremost, management must understand the following; why the organisation needs change and how it may be implemented. It is also of paramount importance that the entire management team fully supports the change. Once this is achieved, involving as many employees as possible to make greater interest and having a more active role in the business will enable the change to occur. Problems arise when the whole burden of change is made to rest on a few people. Resultantly the number committed to change is too small.

Organisational change efforts often run into some form of human resistance. Staff may experience a lot of uncertainty and emotional turmoil. They will then openly try to undermine the change efforts. Their main reason is misunderstanding the change and it implications. It may also be the fear of losing something that was of value.  Changes happening nowadays have mostly to do with enhancing organisational efficiency and this is usually perceived as a threat to jobs. Another fear is the ability to develop new skills and associated behaviours that suit the changes. Such change appears like it advertently requires staff to change too much and too quickly.

Leadership’s role is to ensure that all the above mentioned dynamics to effective change management are embraced.  The importance of awareness and communication can never be over emphasised. Communication may replace all the resistance and fear with excitement and engagement. Before the actual change program is rolled out, management should robustly educated staff and utilise communication structures such as Workers’ Committees.  By making use of their own representatives, communicating change ideas assist staff to see the need for change. This communication may be extended to the rest of the staff through face to face interactions. Communication must be transparent to avoid unwarranted expectations and should not be marred by empty promises. As leaders allow feedback from staff and review it. This builds confidence in staff and promotes an understanding that change is needed to remain competitive.

The implementation process should also be communicated and planned effectively. If for example it’s a systems upgrade, then training on the new system must be done before installation. Customer satisfaction change improvements usually go well with training of staff and communicating what is expected from the employees and how their performance will be measured. Along the way to change, where skills gap is identified, employees must be trained and mentored to cover those gaps. By so doing management creates real agility because every function, office, and staff member becomes eager to rise to the new challenge brought about by change.  These interventions properly create a landmark shift in the organisational operating state or its culture.

From experience the other imperatives for effective change are   

  • Full  incorporation of the  employees  in the process
  • Continual  sharpening  and involvement of  employees
  • Installation of mental discipline that makes people behave differently and helping them to sustain their new behaviour into the future

When we implement the above, we  will  manage to significantly  alter  the way  people  experience their own influence and identity  as well as  how  they deal with conflict  and learning. In the process we should constantly seek for vital signs.

By its very nature change has a way of scaring people into inaction. For operations and processes change, the directly involved departments must drive the change. If its culture change then the HR department must act as the change agent championing the whole process. Such global change should never be viewed as a need for one category of staff. 

History or experiences play a crucial role in the success of a change initiative. If previous change programmes were poorly communicated, unsystematically implemented and never evaluated, it becomes difficult to convenience employees on the need to change let alone have them buy-into the program. Implementing change may be complex but it has become inevitable for organisations to succeed.  Leaders it is worthwhile to invest in good change management training to equip ourselves with essential skills. Another dynamic to change management is its sustainability. Monitoring systems that encourage the desired change must be in put in place. Ironically, the pace at which organisations have to adapt to change may mean some changes are overtaken by events in the operating environment.  How soon organisations are able to roll out change programs have therefore become key. This has supported the need to have fully fledged Project Managers in robust organisations that thrive on change.

In conclusion participative effort and management support are central tenets to any effective change process.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 4 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com