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Address Workplace Anger Early and Fend Off Sabotage Before It Becomes a Problem

July 6, 1999
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Related Topics: Workplace Violence, Safety and Workplace Violence, Featured Article
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Human resources professionals must help their organizations proactively deal with workplace anger and conflict to prevent workplace sabotage. Understanding the issues that are involved, working toward putting policies and programs in place to deal with them and getting management’s buy-in are essential. The following are some common problems in workplaces that cause sabotage and how to solve them.

  1. Problem: Large numbers of employees are acting out their anger, rather than discussing or resolving it.
    Solution: Require and teach employees to deal appropriately with their anger. This includes training employees in conflict management and appropriate ways to vent anger. It also means that management, with HR’s support, must consistently take action every time an employee acts out his or her anger.
  2. Problem: There are feelings of entitlement among your employees, which lead to resentment about increased pressure, long hours, fewer promotions and other problems at work.
    Solution: There should be more explanation and more frequent communication about what the company is facing, as well as what steps it must take and why. Ask for help and input from employees for better ways to get things done. HR can help by encouraging managers to be open to employees’ input, and by finding ways to implement employees’ suggestions.
  3. Problem: The organization and management are reluctant to address and document behavior problems.
    Solution: Managers at all levels must address and document behavior problems. HR should urge managers to do this, and can provide training, but HR also needs support from top management before this requirement will be taken seriously.
  4. Problem: The organization and management are reluctant to put consequences on behavior problems.
    Solution: They must put consequences on behavior problems. HR can show managers at all levels how being lax about problem behaviors can allow for sabotage. Examples from previous incidents may be helpful—as long as they don’t turn into "blame" sessions.
  5. Problem: It’s a "workers’ market" for jobs.
    Solution: Get innovative about how to attract and keep good employees and listen to employees’ suggestions. HR can be a bridge between employees and managers, by helping managers accept feedback without feeling challenged. HR also can use data to show how employee-friendly companies have an easier time getting and keeping good workers.
  6. Problem: Management fails to "include" all workers in the company’s goals, problems and successes.
    Solution: As explained in problem and solution #2, communicate with employees more and use their input. In addition, HR can help managers make the goals and successes important to employees, through profit-sharing bonuses and other innovative methods. HR also can help managers treat problems as opportunities to learn from those who know best—employees working with the products, equipment and customers.
  7. Problem: Workplace violence—of which physical sabotage is one form—is an ongoing problem and risk.
    Solution: Physical sabotage must be understood and treated as workplace violence. HR can help managers understand the need to require appropriate behaviors and to put consequences on inappropriate ones.
  8. Problem: Management fails to take preventive steps by intervening early enough.
    Solution: Management at all levels—starting at the top—must take a preventive approach that spans the organization. HR can help management take a more system-oriented view instead of the short-term view that hurts in the long run.
  9. Problem: Rewards are based on company politics rather than individual performance.
    Solution: Base rewards on performance, not politics. Otherwise, the firm ends up with great politicians, but poor output. HR can lead the organization in developing, requiring and rewarding good performance.

Workforce, July 1999, Vol. 78, No. 7, p. 39.

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