Modern Firms Know All Problems Are Work Related

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.
Original Publication Exchange Magazine

Understanding how home and work-related problems are interrelated and what to do about them.

What's common to the following situations? Hint: all of these people are employed.

Henry has just had another fight with his wife, Veronica. They haven’t been getting along very well for some time now, and this morning is no different from any other. With her parting shot still ringing in his ears, he slams the door, jumps in his car, and bums rubber out of the garage and on his way to work. Beth's mother is dying of heart disease.

Although she isn't the eldest in the family, Beth realizes that most of the responsibility for caring for her mom will fall on her shoulders. She is wondering how she will arrange homecare and nursing and who will pay for it. Bruce is concerned about Linda, his daughter. Two weeks ago, doctors told Bruce and his wife that Linda's tests showed she was diabetic. No one in their family has ever had this disease, and the thought of what might be in store for their daughter is causing many sleepless nights.

Mark simply must do something about his debts before he gets into worse trouble. He has run up massive amounts on his charge cards, and now he is being hounded for payments. His wife knows he owes money, but he is afraid to tell her just how much, Christmas is coming and he is dreading the confrontation be expects when he has to explain that they are so far in debt. Sally is a single mom with a good job, two kids, and an alcohol problem. Lately, the pressures seem to be getting to her, and she is worried that she might be turning into an alcoholic. The tip-off was her neighbour's comment about the number of empty bottles in the garbage. Sally let on that she'd had a party, but she didn't have the nerve to admit that this represented one week's consumption for just her.

Did you figure out the factor that was common to all five situations? No? Well, let me help. You probably guessed that all of these folks have problems, that they are worried about them, and that they don't know just what to do about them, right? Good, that's part of it. The rest is that in every case their problems are affecting them and everyone around them, both at home and at work. Even though these problems started outside the workplace, they are all work related problems.

People used to think that work problems started and stayed there. However, the truth is that anything that has an impact on people also has an impact at work. Henry is going to be angry all day. His marriage is in trouble, and he finds himself thinking about it and snapping at his fellow workers most of the day. Beth spends a great deal of her time at work on the phone. Her boss thinks she's talking with customers but, actually, she is talking with friends, calling her brothers, and attempting to make arrangements for her mother. Bruce, Mark, and Sally are no different.

Even though they may not realize it. Their problems are affecting their performance and their relationships with colleagues and customers and are generally interfering with their jobs. Employers used to take the attitude that whatever happened outside the workplace was no concern of theirs, However, they have learned to their sorrow that employees who are having problems call in sick or come to work with their minds on their problems, not their work, The results show up in high rates of absenteeism, internal conflicts, frequent mistakes, poor quality, sloppy performance, and, in many cases, accidents that should never have happened.

Progressive firms and modem managers have realized that many of their employees need help in coping with problems. Some people seem able to meet potential crises without any assistance, but many others don't know what to do or whom to turn to for assistance. Successfully coping with a problem means that you are in control of it.

Psychologists tell us that when one is faced with a problem, there are three possible reactions; ignore the problem and hope it will go away or diminish in importance; do something to eliminate the problem and whatever is causing it; or learn how to live with the problem and how to handle it in the best possible manner. Ignoring the problem only works in some cases. Beth can hardly ignore the fact that her mother is dying, and Mark can’t ignore his creditors for very long, either.

Eliminating the cause of the problem win work in some cases, but not all. Sally can learn how to stop drinking and Mark how to manage his money, but Bruce and his family will just have to adjust to Linda's diabetes and the changes it will mean for them. But where and how does the employer fit into the picture? Few firms, if any, have all the resources they need to be able to offer the exact type of help that might be required by every employee. After all, who in the firm would be the right person to advise Mark on his personal financial matters, and would Mark feel comfortable talking to a fellow employee about such things? However, every company has someone who is responsible for health and safety, and some firms have established employee assistance plans in which employees with problems are directed to professionals who can provide advice and assistance.

People are very complex organisms, and their problems come in a bewildering array of sizes, types, and complexity. Occupational health and safety in the workplace is increasingly going beyond preventing accidents, ensuring safe working conditions, and reducing alcohol and drug use. As our society becomes ever more complex and as pressures mount, more and more firms will find themselves taking an active rote in providing additional forms of employee assistance, After all, there is really no such thing as a problem that is not work related. The best firms know and are responding to this, with dramatic results that can be measured in dollars and cents.

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

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