How to Train Your Employees NOT to Be a Stressor for Co-Workers

We’re living in stressful times with an ongoing pandemic and civil right protests—and a contentious presidential election year on top of all that. As offices reopen, the mood may be tenser than usual. With so much built-in stress, it’s worth thinking about whether you can train employees to avoid becoming an added stressor to their colleagues.

A few years ago, Deepak Chopra, MD, posted an article to his Chopra Center Website on “7 Ways to Make Peace at the Office.” The tip that most caught my attention: “Don’t Be a Stressor to Other People.”

Last week, first thing in the morning (my least favorite time of the day), I opened my work e-mail to find concerns from a colleague about an article I had just published, which the colleague had received days ago to review and had corresponded with me about the day before—never once during all that time voicing his concerns. I was furious at the unpleasant, stressful start to my day that this disorganized co-worker had caused. I told him I could accommodate any changes he would like to the article, and that he should e-mail me his finalized requests for changes whenever he figured it out. Sounds simple, right? I thought he could just e-mail me whenever he determined what the changes needed to be, then I could make the changes, and we could go about the rest of our day. Instead, as I brushed my teeth and got dressed, I had to field an additional e-mail, this time asking if we could “hop on a call” with another colleague.

I told him I didn’t think it would be necessary for me to participate in that call—I had already told him I was OK making whatever changes he wanted—but he insisted. So, in between putting on my tinted sunscreen moisturizer and doing the rest of my minimal working-from-home personal maintenance, I had to listen him going back and forth with our colleague about what needed to be done, all the while reiterating his options and letting him know again and again that I was OK with whatever he decided.

The situation was resolved after that, as he appeared to need to talk it out, but not without taking a slice out of my morning peace. Does this situation sound familiar? You try to be as accommodating as you can and a colleague waits until the last minute (beyond the last minute, actually) to let you know of their concerns, and then ties you up in a needless phone call. This is an approach to work that causes me stress. From my colleague’s perspective, I was the stressor, having no interest in helping him talk through his concerns—especially as we were well past the deadline I had given him to voice those concerns.

Could training resolve these mutual stressful situations? Here’s what Deepak Chopra says about how not to become a stressor to others: “Peace begins by dedicating yourself to being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Most of the stress in any workplace is caused by people rather than the external situation. Don’t add to the stress by doing things that provoke stress. These include joining cliques, gossiping, taking sides in office politics, and stirring the pot when there is tension in the air. Avoid all of them.”

Chopra doesn’t mention the stressor of being disorganized and inconsiderate in your work, so that you blow through the deadlines others ask you to respect, and then present concerns and requests for changes after the work has already gone live. In addition to stress, my colleague’s behavior made me question his motivation in bringing me his concerns beyond the last minute. Thinking like a person suffering from paranoia, I wondered if he intentionally wanted to cause a problem that would make me look bad. I realize that was almost assuredly not the case, but that’s where his behavior took my mind.

Maybe a “Respect Your Colleagues” training module should be added to the coursework new employees are asked to complete. A refresher could be required once a year. Much has been said about respecting colleagues from the perspective of avoiding insulting, demeaning, prejudicial, harassing comments and behavior. Less has been said about how shoddy work habits can show disrespect for co-workers. A key to instill in employees is that in your company’s culture, deadlines set by co-workers should always be respected. This includes letting the colleague know immediately that the deadline will not be possible, and asking for a more realistic timeline. And letting the co-worker know right away when concerns or complications to the work occur, so those issues are addressed before the project reaches completion and is in the process of being presented to customers.

Another important facet of respecting colleagues, and avoiding becoming a stressor, is noting—and even asking about—the communication preferences of co-workers. Is this a person who likes frequent interruptions with people popping up alongside her workstation? Is this a person who prefers scheduled phone calls instead? Or maybe this is a person who prefers to communicate almost solely through e-mail. How does this person feel about online video meetings? Do you notice them squirming uncomfortably? Did you know there are multitasking personalities that prefer audio-only conference calls so they can continue working during parts of the call that have nothing to do with them? I should know—because that’s me! And you can’t imagine how happy I was one morning last week when the video function on a conference call wasn’t working, so that we could use audio-only, and I could make progress on my work during the meeting. Another needless stressor removed from my day!

Do you train employees to avoid becoming stressors to their colleagues? If so, how well is it working?

 

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