Nip it in the bud

For health, address workplace conflict sooner rather than later

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We've all had our moments in the workplace. A run-in with a co-worker can negatively impact your day, your focus and just plain make you feel crummy.

Health experts say that if you're not able to address these conflicts quickly and speak up, it can negatively impact your health.

"Don't let things blow out of proportion. If you nip things in the bud when they happen it will not only improve your work relationships, it will do a lot for your personal wellness. You could be the most health conscious person in the world. You could incorporate a half hour of meditation and three mile run before having yogurt, fruit and granola for breakfast every day, but if your next move is stepping into a toxic work environment for eight hours a day, five days a week, there is no doubt it will negatively impact your health," says Jill Desilets, a Workplace Wellness Coordinator with Seven Oaks General Hospital.

Conflict will never go away. It's an inevitable part of life but it can be managed. Differing people have different perspectives and different approaches to conflict. The beauty of having a diverse workforce is that everyone has a unique perspective.

Respecting those unique perspectives while reducing conflict can be a challenge at times.

"Everyone has the right to a respectful workplace, and each of us needs to own our piece of accountability. If a behaviour occurs in the workplace that you feel is unacceptable you need to address it in a respectful way. If you don't, you're sending a strong message - what you permit you promote," adds Desilets.

It starts with creating a culture that fosters respect in the workplace. Is it okay to clarify things with people, regardless if they're our peer or supervisor?

In order to create a healthy, respectful workplace, it needs to be okay.

The impact of toxic

In sessions, Desilets has put the words "toxic employee" up on the screen and asked for people's thoughts. Rolled eyes and "that face" are common reactions to the words because unfortunately most people have encountered at least one toxic employee in their work experience. Discussion inevitably leads to "those people" who poison the environment through chronic gossip, catastrophize minor problems, never provide support but always expect it from others, and are just general bullies in the workplace.

The inability to address the issue is often what people discuss next. "People are often hesitant to address the bully in the workplace because ‘that's just the way they are' or they don't know what to say for fear of their response," recounts Desilets. "It's important to consider that if nobody calls them out on their behaviour they gain power. If everyone starts owning that piece of accountability and respectfully addresses the toxic behaviours, however, it reduces the likelihood of them doing it again, or at least reduces the frequency."

Addressing workplace issues before they fester is about more than workplace health. It's also about job satisfaction. Sometimes good, skilled people end up leaving a workplace because a toxic person gained so much power in the workplace.

The solution? Education and awareness, says Desilets. "We need to increase self awareness so it doesn't happen in the first place. Empowering people with confidence, tools, language and resources to address and manage conflict in the workplace will help create a stronger, healthier culture."

Resources

"We need to educate people on how to communicate respectfully and have conversations that focus less on emotion and more on problem solving. If we can find ways to be less concerned about  defending our own territory and more focused on problem solving and determining what each other's needs are, the more productive and cohesive we will be," says Desilets.

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