When people are physically uncomfortable, they generally have difficulty focusing on the work at hand, and they tend to become emotionally sensitive and irritable. Both can decrease productivity and increase conflict.
Here are three of the most common issues I see as I work with my clients:
1. Space constraints
Such constraints can take many forms, but they almost always add some level of stress to the work environment. The constraints might be caused by file cabinets, equipment, physical limitations of the building, or just other people in the workplace.
You may not have the authority to make big changes to the footprint of your office. Still, while you may not have the ability to increase the physical space, you can be sensitive to the issue and take whatever action is in your control. For example, you might be able to:
- Give people more short breaks so that they can “stretch their legs” for a moment.
- Find ways to reduce or eliminate extra “stuff” that takes up space unnecessarily.
- Add mirrors or change the color so that the space “feels” bigger to people.
2. Resource limitations
In an ideal world, we could give employees everything they need to do the job, and they would completely understand when we cannot. They would also have a team-oriented mindset that would stop them from bickering with each other when they find themselves competing for limited resources.
Maybe you work in the ideal place. I have not seen it happen very often. In virtually every business where I have worked, some level of stress and conflict happens as the result of people competing for resources. The resource could be tools, the coffee pot, the copier, the department administrative assistant or your time. Whatever resource is limited, it will usually create tension among employees. Again, you might not have complete authority or sufficient budget to fix the problem entirely, but you can acknowledge the problem and do what you can to mitigate it. For example, you could:
- Help people develop better communication skills so that they can discuss the resource limitations without judging, blaming, and labeling each other.
- Work with people to develop an agreed upon schedule for resource use.
- Acknowledge the problem and make it safe to discuss.
3. Room temperature
This is a big one, and with temperatures heating up outside, you can bet it will become an issue soon. I have seen some major workplace conflicts break out over room temperature. I have also heard leaders complain about how “childish” the conflict can become. I acknowledge that the bickering created by stress over room temperature can look pretty silly to an outside observer. I also realize that the discomfort is very real for the people involved and that physical discomfort creates emotional stress that affects their productivity. Again, completely fixing the problem may be beyond your control, but here’s what you can do:
- Recognize that physical discomfort is a legitimate source of frustration and emotional pressure.
- Make it safe to discuss by putting the issue in the open without judging, condemning or criticizing the people involved.
- Work to resolve each person’s interest in being comfortable at work. Discuss the actions each person (including you) will take to find a solution that is as workable as possible for everyone involved.
If you can spend the money to remove these stressors, I encourage you to do so. In many cases, you cannot pursue that option. If you do not have the budget or the authority to truly fix the environmental issue, you can take action to provide safe, productive outlets for the emotional pressure that can build when these issues remain unresolved for a long period of time.
The first step to providing a safe, productive outlet lies with the leader recognizing and acknowledging the reality of the frustration without minimizing or criticizing it. You cannot fix the problem just by talking about it, but you can help to relieve the pressure so that it doesn’t “blowout” somewhere else.