By Diane M. Calabrese / Published April 2021
Somewhere in time, someone has probably tried to walk on eggshells. Most of us have not. Walking on eggshells without breaking them would require the utmost delicate maneuvering (with almost certain failure included).
When you broach the subject of attitude or disposition, you quickly move into eggshell territory. Aiming to stay on terra firma, we cite the golden rule as a good guide (and one many industry members have named across the years in these pages).
If we commit to treating others the way we would like to be treated ourselves, we are doing more than staying in equilibrium. We are modeling the very sort of demeanor we would like to see in others.
Today, however, any discussion of attitude looks like a landscape of eggshells. And most would prefer not to walk across it.
In instances where the outlook of a team member could affect safety, however, it must be addressed. Con-sider encountering a natural disaster, for example.
A wildfire, flood, tornado, or hurricane can leave in its wake a lot of damage, including injuries. The most measured response possible to a catastrophic event requires a tempered attitude.
Moreover, there are perturbations that arise in a workplace—a person falls ill suddenly or suffers an injury—which also require a calm response. Having confidence that team members will be able to react in a serene and helpful way begins with the day-to-day routine of trying to quietly instill the importance of responsibility and accountability in employees.
Readers may be shaking their heads and asking for alternatives to the ‘r’ and ‘a’ words. How about working to instill the confidence in a team member that he or she has the tools and knowledge required to respond to a crisis?
The reader may not have to think long to recall the most recent crisis in the workplace. The follow-up thought should be whether there was in place the wherewithal among team members to compensate for it.
“Crisis intervention is a vortex of assimilated responses, depending upon the assumed or confirmed problem annotated,” says Bill Sommers, president of Pressure Systems Industries Inc. – Mist Air, which is headquartered in Phoenix, AZ. “Each instance deserves complete attention regardless of the severity involved.”
The gauge of severity deserves reflection. “What we perceive as being insignificant can have a major impact upon another individual,” explains Sommers. “Each of those crisis moments will become a challenging situation.”
The challenge: “How do you handle, prioritize, and rectify a possible volatile reaction?” says Sommers.
Despite the most acute attention and rigorous safety training, employees are injured on the job. Does the team know how to respond, not just to the injured person but also to those who may be affected by the incident?
Necessary response includes attention to the injury, attention to anyone who might faint in the presence of blood, and more, explains Sommers. Managing a crisis involves doing many things at virtually the same time.
If any event such as an injury occurs, the next meeting with employees should include a review of the incident and protocol for handling it, explains Sommers. It’s a chance to consider any change—no matter how small—that could have improved the response. If no change is needed, it’s an opportunity to recall an optimal response.
Crises “come at you from various subjects and directions,” says Sommers. Team members have different reactions to them, and not all individuals rate the same crisis with the same severity.
It is complicated. (We are not telling readers what they don’t know already.)
“Individuals and teams plus leadership need to rely on their sensibilities to rectify the problem of any sort, whether short-or long-term, to the best of their abilities,” says Sommers. “I really like the statement, ‘No matter how thin you slice it, there are still two sides to the equation.’”
It is complicated. That’s the refrain for 2021.
The onus for balancing the sides falls to the leader/owner of a company. Teamwork and communication have long been part of the objectives fostered by leaders.
But even definitions of teamwork and communication are not easy to quote. Consider communication. If give and take is good, can it ever be bad? In teamwork, if one member of the team seems to rely too much on others, can the extra-reliance be addressed?
The phrase “attitude adjustment” may evoke images of broken eggshells among business owners, but it is given abundant coverage across federal agencies that deal with health and safety. Generally, the two-word phrase is put in quotes, a clue that it ought not be adopted.
When considering employees’ varying perspectives on and reactions to their work setting and job tasks, the terminology used includes many of the following phrases: cognitive frames, dialogue, emotional distress, stressful, trigger. (That’s the short list.)
In fact, “adjustment disorder” is medically recognized as a collection of symptoms following a stressful event. The event can range from general life changes to death of a loved one.
We all understand the significance of the loss of a loved one. But some of us may have difficulty understanding how a general life change, which seems minor to us, can be difficult for some individuals to handle.
However, understand we must. Those who lead teams know that today the expectation is they will be ready to understand those coping with (what seem to be) small issues as well as large ones.
The depth and breadth of expectations for employers will probably increase. Take sleep as an example. Fatigue is a well-documented enemy of safety.
The CDC cites sleep as both a health and safety concern. It provides advice for employers on how to help employees get the sleep they need. (See https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/initiatives/resource-center/pdf/WHRC-Brief-Sleep-508.pdf.)
The CDC document recommends steps for determining whether “sleep intervention” is right for a work site. It goes on to outline how to structure an intervention, which may include rooms for napping, and how to evaluate the success of the intervention.
There is no question that workplace safety begins with a well-trained and consistently alert team. Thus, in the larger sense, activities that promote engagement (positive outlook by another name) and well-being enhance safety.
Employees in a situation with which they cannot cope can become the catalyst for a crisis that involves others. They may be absent-minded or anger easily. Their comportment affects them and those around them. The best—but not flawless—preparation is a detailed employee handbook that addresses how to handle employee misbehavior and negative attitudes.
Given to employees at the onset of employment, the handbook advises employees which circumstances would be deemed those that would require an immediate change in performance or the need to leave the company. Handbooks—or lists of rights and responsibilities—should be as specific as possible.
For example, “The workday is 8 am to 5 pm,” would be replaced with “Each employee is present and prepared to begin work at 8 am and continues to perform assigned tasks until 5 pm If one assignment is completed, the employee asks his or her manager for another task.”
And so on. Consider all the things that have become difficult issues in the workplace—excessive cell phone use, wild driving, misplaced tools—and work in reverse to create such a handbook.
The more thorough the list of rights and responsibilities for employees, the easier it is—although it will still be hard—to talk with an employee about something he or she has done wrong. It reduces some of the peril for employers trying to pull the employee toward a model of engagement and decorum that benefits all.
Be sure to include information about substance use and drug testing. Employers that believe it is possible to simply dismiss an employee who abuses drugs or alcohol must be corrected.
See SAMSA.gov. SAMSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Its overarching goal, to help citizens remain productive despite a substance or mental health issue, may include having employers retain employees.
Classic film buffs know the “shape up or ship out” approach to dealing with vexing outlooks in the workplace. The notion that any employer today could tell an employee straight out to “shape up” or get them to “ship out” without a lot of documentation (and don’t forget that handbook) is misplaced.
Attitude adjustment is a phrase that applies to the current work-place, but it is employers who are being required to adjust. It’s time consuming, for sure, and in some instances, an employer may want to vent.
Better than venting, look at the effort that must be taken as a strength-building exercise. Turn to the Bible books of Proverbs or to the Psalms. Exercise. Take a deep breath.
The stronger the owner of a business is, the better the exemplar of resourcefulness, competence, and can-do he or she is—eggshells not-withstanding.