Thursday, September 10, 2009

Are Your Employees Stressed Out?

Melissa Huckaby, a Sunday school teacher, was accused of a horrific crime: The kidnapping, rape and murder of an 8 year old California girl, Sandy Cantu. Melissa Huckaby tried to hurt herself while awaiting a court hearing and has attempted suicide in the past, according to her husband (Read the full story here). Even in volunteer work environments -- especially around children -- behavioral assessments and psychological testing should be done as part of employee screening. Maybe if signs were detected, the outcome could have been different.

When people undergo stress, strange and erratic behaviors may occur. Think about when you've been on a deadline and you feel pulled in a hundred directions -- that's the time when we may either lash-out, or merely give-up with a kind of apathetic attitude. Perhaps we're seeing more of these behaviors in our employees which is understandable -- to a degree -- with the state of jobs and the economy. However even with the acknowledgement that times may be tough, these types of behaviors can still be unsuitable at work. With this in mind and with the possibility of increased work stress, there may be some behaviors we can turn our heads once or twice. These are your basic annoying behaviors where we love to call these types idiots or even simpler; jerks. Their behaviors are pretty harmless and these employees may even have a mild temper tantrum. We let it go. However, there are other behaviors where we should pay more attention for the well-being of the employees and the general work environment. These behaviors may be pointing towards something deeper going one. Are they silent? Do they seem depressed? Do we even know the signs of depression? Have our employees recently undergone a divorce, an illness, a death in the family, some kind of rejection? Perhaps they have undergone one or more of these and with ungrateful clients or extreme work stress -- they may be pushed to the limit. There are other behaviors to be noticed also -- are they harassing others, discriminating or even creating a hostile work environment? Or are they the ones being bullied -- thus the silence or depression. Performing behavioral assessments and psychological testing as part of our pre-employment screening beforehand is crucial as it can weed out the criminally deviant, but stress can bring out all sorts of behaviors. Even with a stressful economy, it's not a hopeless cause. There are some behaviors that we, as managers, can encourage.

  1. We can have open communication with our employees so they feel validated and understood.
  2. We can encourage our employees to focus on the present but plan for the future, eliminating the what if mentality or the apocalyptic doom and gloom.
  3. Encourage exercise programs through an employee incentive program.
  4. Even purchase them books such as Don't sweat the small stuff at work. Or set up some kind of library system where employees can bring in their favorite positive book and they swap. These types of positive messages will be reinforced which can be a reducing stress strategy.
  5. Teach relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or even just encourage employees to learn these techniques. They’ll respect you because you care.

While Melissa Huckaby's case is extreme, it's a reminder that people's behavior can become erratic, deviant and even violent. Prescreening employees and performing behavioral assessments are necessary nowadays, but so is going one step farther: Being aware of our employees' current behavior and/or stresses in their lives that may initiate destructive situations.

No comments: