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Lutgert College of Business in the News

This is the text of a story from the Naples Daily News of May 20, 2013

Workplace Worries: How co-workers behave makes a difference in our health

Your co-worker talks too loud. Or he plays distracting music. Perhaps another wears cologne that clogs your sinuses. Maybe it’s the co-worker who gossips or always fiddles with the thermostat, plunging the entire office into a deep-freeze or oven mode.

Workplace stress takes a serious toll on your mind and body, reports say. It can effect mental health and physical health, even in irreversible ways. And now, studies suggest it is not necessarily the number of hours we are working, nor the angry boss that is always the worst. Co-worker support has been shown in some recent studies, such as that led by Arie Shirom at Tel Aviv University, to be the top determinant in the level of stress we experience at work.

Scientists found the factor most closely linked to health was the support of co-workers: Less-kind colleagues were associated with a higher bad health — even death. Although this correlation might not be surprising, the magnitude of the effect is unsettling: According to the data, middle-age workers with little or no peer social support in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the study.

The daily concerns, if left to fester, also may affect the bottom line of your company, too.

“These potential everyday annoyances between co-workers may not rise to the level of a complaint with human resources, but they may not be a laughing matter. You have to learn to deal with them effectively,” said Dr. Sandra King Kauanui , director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and professor of management at the Lutgert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University. She teaches graduate and undergraduate conflict management and negotiation.

Many employed Americans spend a majority of their day at work. It is important to follow effective conflict resolution daily, as needed. Kauanui suggests the following:

  • Approach the problem early on. Do not delay addressing issues of potential conflict to the other co-worker. It is important to do this in a nonthreatening manner.
  • Don’t blame the other person. Have a discussion, not an argument. Realize there is your story, their story and a third story. The third story is where you want to be because that will often be the place of mutual resolution.

An example, Kauanui , said, may follow this route: “ ‘I notice you’ve been turning your music up lately. Is everything OK? Or does it help you relax while you work?’

“When your co-worker answers, you can say, ‘Well, to be honest, sometimes it is distracting to me and I lose focus. I was wondering if you could turn it down low. Do you want me to see if we have a pair of headphones you can use?’ ”

Take ownership. Acknowledge your role in the situation. Kauanui suggests something such as: “I know I should have said something sooner ,” or, “I hate that I have these nagging allergies, Mary, because I can’t wear perfumes like that,” or even “I wish I could focus and listen to music like that! My brain is on one track!”

Ask questions instead of directly complaining. This is how you help create understanding and a compromise.

Keep in mind all scenarios will involve body language, a most important part of any conversation. A smile and friendly comment will lay the groundwork for a productive exchange. Kauanui offers another idea here:

“ ‘I notice your perfume stays with you all day! Do you buy the eau de toilette, or the parfum?’ When your co-worker answers, you can continue to explain that you have sensitivities to the strong perfume she wears, and she may offer tone it down.

“If not, you can continue with what you have tried to do to tolerate perfumes, and eventually the conversation will often lead to a healthy resolution.”

If you find you cannot solve the issue, ask a third party to assist.

Try this before going to HR.

“When you go to human resources,” Kauanui said, “you take the issue to a whole new dimension. Sometimes this creates more problems. It is always better to try and solve conflict at the lower level first.”

Kauanui suggests companies employ outside activities to form a sense of friendliness and mutual interests.

“When you engage the employees in nonwork related activities, it helps them find common ground. This is something that goes a long way within the company during work hours. Doing activities together such as volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, bowling, camping, or other activities, are a stress free way to form strong teams,” she said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011), employed Americans age 25-54 with children spend on average 8.8 hours doing work and work-related activities every work day. That can add up to a lot of opportunities to suffer bad habits of other workers.

According to Mike McCoy of SunTrust Bank’s human resources department, having a policy in place that prevents niggling conflict can truncate the issues between employees.

McCoy said SunTrust focuses on teamwork engagement.

“Many of our managers conduct targeted teambuilding activities, at their discretion, to foster cohesion among teammates,” he said.

“Recognizing that every situation is unique, our senior managers and human resources teammates provide individualized coaching to managers to help them successfully develop teammates.”

McCoy added SunTrust teammates have access to internal tools, “like our HR portal and alert line, designed to provide a channel for reporting issues and concerns.”

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