What do the following situations have in common? Here is a hint: all of these people are employed.
1. 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 than any other morning. With her parting shot still ringing in his ears, he slams the door, jumps in his car and burns rubber out of the garage and on his way to work.
2. 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.
3. Bruce is concerned about his daughter Linda. Two weeks ago, the doctors told Bruce and his wife that Linda’s tests showed that she was diabetic. No one in their family has ever had this disease, and the thought of what may be in store for their daughter is causing many sleepless nights.
4. Mark just has to do something about his debts before he gets into worse trouble. He has run up massive amounts on his charge cards and now they are hounding him for payments.
5. 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 may be turning into an alcoholic. The tip-off was her neighbour’s comment about the number of empty bottles in her garbage. Sally let on that she had 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? All of these folks have problems, they are worried about them, and none of them knows just what to do about them. But that’s only part of it. The other part is that in every case, these peoples’ 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. In fact, there is no such thing as a problem that is not work related.
At one time, people thought that problems at work started at work and stayed at work. However, the truth of the matter is this: anything that has an impact on people also has an impact at work. Henry is going to be mad 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 time at work on the phone, but it’s not time spent on work-related calls. 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, their relationships and generally interfering with their jobs.
Employers used to take the attitude that whatever happened outside the workplace was no concern of theirs. They are learning, however that employees who are having problems either call in sick, are sick, or come to work with their minds on their problems and not their jobs. The results show up in high absentee rates, internal conflict, frequent mistakes, poor quality, sloppy performance and, in many cases, accidents that should never have happened.
Progressive firms and contemporary managers have realized that many of their employees need help in coping with some of the events in their lives. Some people seem to be able to meet potential crises without any assistance, but there are many others who don’t know what to do or whom to turn 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: 1. Ignore the problem and hope it will go away or diminish in importance. 2. Do something to eliminate the problem and whatever is causing it. 3. Learn how to exist 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 will work in some, but not all cases. Sally can learn how to stop drinking and Mark can learn how to manage his money, but Bruce and his family will just have to adjust to their daughter’s diabetes and learn how best to live with the changes this will make for them. But where and how does the employer fit into the picture?
Few, if any firms have all the resources they need to be able to offer every employee the exact type of help they might require. However, every firm 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 bewildering array of sizes, types and complexity. More and more, occupational health and safety in the workplace is encompassing much more that accident prevention, ensuring safe working conditions and reducing alcohol and drug use. As our society becomes more and more complex, and as pressures mount, firms will increasingly find themselves taking an active role in providing additional forms of employee assistance. After all, there really is no such thing as a problem that is not work related.