Managing Stress and Conflict in the Organisation
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Understand the effectiveness of own organisation in dealing with workplace stress and conflict Stress is a part of everyday life and as such is a part of all organisations. Cole in his 2004 book ‘Management Theory and Practice’ describes stress as: The adverse psychological and physical reactions that occurs in individuals as a result of their being unable to cope with the demands being made of them. (p.382) It is estimated that stress causes the UK economy around £7 billion a year, of which £4 billion is as a result of the 180 million working days lost due to staff taking time off work. As such the importance, if not purely on a financial basis, can be seen to all organisations. The importance to XXXX College, can also be seen by the fact that over the last six months, the College has employed the services of two external consultants to investigate work related sickness patterns and implement a new policy to minimise the occurrences of work related sickness. Thomson in her book ‘Managing People’ published in 2002 says that as with stress, conflict is also an inevitable part of organisational life. However, as with stress, this is generally seen as undesirable, dysfunctional and a negative thing, but given the right circumstances and handling, both can be beneficial to an organisation. The College as a whole has various mechanisms for dealing with workplace stress and conflict.
In terms of workplace stress, identification of a potential employee’s ability to put in place personal coping strategies is made during the recruitment process. Part of the College’s standard Personal Specification is around outside hobbies and interests and one of the suggested questions from HR is about the acknowledgement that teaching and education is a high stress environment and what strategies does the interviewee have for dealing with this. All recruited staff then under-go a formalised induction process. Part of this process is a session that covers work place stress and the handing out of a College produced booklet on Coping with Stress. This booklet details personal coping strategies that staff can use to reduce their levels of stress to a ‘safe’ level, this being the level of pressure that an individual can adequately deal with. Once of these coping strategies is exercise and the College has arranged that staff can take advantage of corporate membership rates at two local gyms and provides access to the College’s gym for staff use.
The induction process also explains that if an individual reaches a level of pressure at which they cannot adequately and appropriately deal with and the pressure starts to become signs of stress, that they can confidentially see one of the College Counsellors free of charge. As well as at induction, this service is advertised on the staff notice board in the main staff room as a reminder that this is available. A further related policy in dealing with stress is the Return to Work Interview, as part of the Sickness Procedure, that the College insists is carried out when a member of staff returns from any sickness absence. In this interview the staff’s line manager explorers with the staff if the College environment in any way caused or aggravated the sickness and what adjustments could be made if the staff member feels these are needed to facilitate a successful return to work. Such adjustments can include a phased return to work, with this time being made either unpaid or taken as holiday, a temporary reduction in duties, or a permanent reduction in hours and duties with an associated reduction in salary.
The final College strategy in terms of dealing with stress is the annual appraisal system. The College has a series of behaviours that staff are rated on by themselves and their manager. One of these behaviours is dealing with stress. So staff and their line managers are forced into have a conversation at least once a year on their perceptions on how stress levels has been dealt with over the last year. This conversation then gives both parties the opportunities to discuss and signpost personal coping strategies or move down the performance route to remove pressure from the staff member’s work-load. In relation to the management of conflict the College has several inter-related procedures. The first and most important to this area is the Anti-Harassment procedure. This procedure deals with the steps, first informal and then formal, that a member of staff who feels they are being harassed can go down to resolve this conflict.
Linked to this is the Disciplinary procedure under which action may be taken upon a successful Anti-Harassment complaint. For managers there is also the Poor Performance procedure should the conflict be in relation to the performance of a staff member. For conflicts in relation to employment matters, pay and grading issues the College has a Grievance procedure. The above discussed procedures are those for the whole of the College and so should be equally applied across all departments. However with my directorate, conflict is to be avoided at all costs and rather than rely on the College procedures the expectation is that it will be dealt with internally within the directorate.
Generally this results in compromise with no clear, long term resolution, instead ensuring that everything is seen to be running smoothly and thus not requiring the involvement of HR. This view is explained that is it better not to give HR an opportunity to point score against the directorate and cause further trouble down the line, and that HR has the attitude that staff are to be believed over managers. This perception presents a significant issue and radically reduces the effectiveness of College’s ability to deal with conflict. It does not matter if this perception is actually correct or not, a barrier exists that means that initially conflict is dealt with informally with the directorate and not by recourse to the College Procedures and it is only when the conflict escalates that College procedures are implemented.
Be able to improve the management of workplace stress and conflict in own area of responsibility The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are clear that Line Managers play a crucial role in the prevention and management of stress within their team. The key responsibilities are: * To understand what work related stress is, what causes it and how it can be prevented and managed * To engage and communicate with staff about stress and raise awareness * To be aware of your organisation’s policies and procedures on this issue * To support and get involved in organisational initiatives to tackle stress, for example, encouraging staff to complete questionnaires, attend focus groups or suggest solutions * To understand your role in preventing and managing work related stress, and that you can sometimes cause or exacerbate it * To be aware of your competencies in managing and preventing this issue and how this can impact on staff, as well as taking action to improve your competencies * To identify potential causes of stress before they become a problem
* To identify work related stress in your team members early and work with the individual and human resources in resolving the problem * To support staff to prevent work related stress and to help them manage it once it occurs, including providing access to relevant support services * To identify and implement solutions that will prevent work related stress in your teams * To help staff return successfully to work after work related stress successfully * Show a positive attitude to stress and mental health issues As has just been discussed, the College has a set of initiatives and procedures for the identification of workplace stress and conflict which are somewhat complicated by the practice carried out within my directorate. However as a Line Manager, it is clear that I cannot solely rely on these processes and that I must play an active part in making improvements to the identification and mitigation of work place stress and conflict.
It is frequently commented that staff can tell when a manager has been on training, as they come in and carry out a newly learnt technique for a few weeks, before it is forgotten by the pressure of normal day routines. If this is not to be the situation with my approach to this area, a careful plan of action will be needed to ensure that what is intended becomes an imbedded approach and management style. Using some of the HSE list of responsibilities as a base line for the planning process, the first step in the plan would be for me to gain a much better understanding of work placed stress and conflict. This is an area I am already somewhat familiar with, but it is important not to become complacent. I have previously undertaken stress awareness training and managing workplace stress training as part of my professional CPD. I have personal experience of stress and in a past career had what is commonly called a nervous breakdown. This experience caused me to totally revaluate my attitude and approach to work and stress. This said I do tend to forget that others do not have their own personal mechanisms to cope with stress and this process has once again brought to mind that it is my responsibility to support others and things that I know naturally shrug off, others do not and this can cause them stress.
The teaching on the ILM course has started the process of ensuring that I do not become complacent and reminded me that I need to be supplemented and refreshing my knowledge with further reading and research. In preparation for this assignment the ACAS booklet ‘Stress at work’ and the books previously quoted by Cole and Thompson have been read, and the content of these needs to be further revisited and digested, as do the training materials from the CPD courses attended. As a department, I have asked the staff to look at national awareness days to run events and increase College awareness of the disabilities that we support. This approach could be used as a natural way to engage and communicate with staff about stress. Unfortunately National Stress Awareness Day was the 7th November and so this has been missed.
However Mental Health Awareness Week is in May and this could be used as a great opportunity to highlight stress and engage with staff over this issue in a natural and non-forced matter. Additionally Cole gives a personal coping strategy for stress management as exercise. In September of this year, as a department we discussed doing the National Trusts 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾. All of these are outdoor physical activates and so I will continue to promote and link in with it the benefits of stress management. The department have also raised the possibility of doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenging, at Easter, as a fund raising activity. Promoting this and some practice walks from January to Easter, will provide staff with an opportunity to build as a team, and also engage physical activity. As part of this ILM course, a Dale Carnegie booklet on your personal Conflict Reaction Profile was worked through and strategies for reducing conflict were given.
The Health and Safety Executive web site also contains a stress management competency indicator tool (which also contains a section on reasoning/managing difficult situation, managing conflict). Whilst I have glanced at these, part of the competences the HSE is to be aware of my competencies in this area, and so as with the reading material these need to be worked through in detail and then an action plan devised to work on the area that these are highlighting as areas for development for me. It is realistic to expect that by January the indicators will be done and then the required CPD highlight and training sort through the College within the remainder of this academic year. Thomson gives the four main causes of conflict in the workplace as; interpersonal differences, misunderstanding, differences in values and beliefs and differences in interests. As a person I have the attitude that a spade is a spade, I am very direct and do not beat around the bush or ‘paint up’ a situation. This has been described and is often seen as be being brusque and insensitive. This can present misunderstanding, on both sides and as such can be a cause for conflict.
However being aware of this, I am able as well as do address this as a source of conflict. In planning to manage workplace stress within XXXX College it is vital to understand the changing nature of further education and the impact this will have on staff. Both Cole and Thompson states that organisational factors such as high uncertainty about job security, restructures and low pay are major sources of stress at work. XXXX College has just been through a restructure and is once again embarking on a Business Challenge looking at voluntary severance and further cost savings with a figure of 50 redundancies having to be made if the savings cannot be found elsewhere, the numbers of core students, 16 – 18 full time, is falling and with this income to the College, and Government funding is being further reduced whilst more is being expected of Colleges and staff are under a national pay freeze which in real terms means that they now working for about 4% less than in January 2011.
Whilst all of this is outside of my control and I cannot do anything to change these factors, I can plan and implement general strategies to help avoid causing further stress and conflict caused by the stressing effects detailed above as well as stress caused domestic situations, work relationships and personal factors. Thomson says the most important factor in avoiding me as a manager causing organisational stress is to ensure that I provide an environment which is open, with people-oriented leadership, giving staff training and examining the work-life balance. I already run an open department and communicate all information I am allowed to staff. I meet weekly with all my managers and every other week with all the staff in which I discuss all the issues and developments both in the College and the wider further education sector and the implications these will have on us as a department.
I positively promote discussion and seek the ideas from all staff on new developments and ways of working and ensure that work is fairly distributed across the whole department. I seek the feedback from staff on this and my management style through annual anonymous reviews and have developed an atmosphere with my managers where they can question and challenge me in our managers meetings. At every other of the fortnightly department meetings, time is set aside for CPD and a staff development programme is in place to provide further and refresher training on the job role for the support staff. This has included training on Exam Concessions, Use of Gradebook (a College electronic session), Use of Assistive Technology and Software, Use of games in support, Dealing with Challenging Behaviour. This training for staff will continue and feedback from staff as to which areas they feel they need for their job roles is also sought.