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Greg Blass
Unhappy at work? You’re not alone

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We have mentioned here some of the places where we spend much of our lives: schools and colleges, where and how we sleep, exercise of body and mind, even gambling houses. So now let’s consider the workplace. We’ll discuss some compelling research about how working people feel about their jobs and some hopefully worthwhile ideas from this writer on how to make things better.

The Rand Corp, UCLA and Harvard Medical School just announced the results of a wide-ranging study they did in 2015, of how more than 3,000 US workers, ranging in age from 25 to 71, feel about their jobs and workplaces, the first such study ever.

Interestingly, this study’s release comes at a time when a great number of employers cannot fill jobs, with the rate of unemployment at its lowest in 16 years. Some have speculated that many Americans stay out of the labor force owing to the negative workplace conditions which this study reveals.

Almost 55 percent of workers describe their workplace as “unpleasant,” and “potentially hazardous.” A whopping 1 in 5 workers who interact with customers and the public report that they receive constant abuse. Not a favorable insight into our society, is it? A similar number sees their work environments as hostile, even threatening, particularly in terms of sexual harassment and bullying.

Half must work on their own time to complete job demands. Only slightly more than a third work where there is a good chance for advancement. And another surprisingly large number – almost 75 percent – say that one-fourth of their working hours is spent in physical labor that is “intense and repetitive.” And if they are male workers without college degrees, one-fourth of their working hours is spent actually moving heavy loads.

One of this study’s authors expressed surprise at how “taxing,” as well as “pressured and hectic” the workplace has become. And predictions that the electronic age would enable many to work from home haven’t materialized as a reprieve, as 78 percent have to be at the workplace during work hours.

So here’s a message for employers — the bosses, supervisors and managers who run large and small businesses, and government and private offices, here on the North Fork, and everywhere, for that matter: this report is a red flag demanding your action. The study doesn’t go into this, but let’s discuss it anyway. Start with the kind of boss you are. To be candid, are you one of so many who is not suited to being in charge of other people? Time to self-check if you lack patience and interpersonal skills. It has an enormous impact on those you supervise, and on your firm’s or organization’s work product and profits.

An enlightened boss can make all the difference with job conditions. Show respect to your workers. Promote a civil workplace, making sure your firm’s supervisors who report to you do the same. There is very helpful training available on how to assure a civil workplace. This and other types of training not only make for better work, but also make workers confident they are working better, and that means a lot.

Good bosses and supervisors will evaluate their workers individually at least once or twice a year. If you counsel them one-on-one on the results of these evaluations, chances are they will learn about their weaknesses and improve. They will also grasp their strengths and how to enhance them. Without a serious worker evaluation system, the whole organization suffers, and many of the toxic workplace conditions cited in this study will be unavoidable.

Let your workers know they are appreciated, even for small things. A simple comment or e-mail of thanks will go a long way. Incredibly, too many workers never see or hear such things. Actively discourage in-crowds and gossiping cliques among them. Strongly prohibit any abusive attitudes by workers among their peers, and by supervisors toward their subordinates. Good morale is a leader’s job. Reprimands should be done in private. Make sure you show no favorites among your workers. The study reports that 42 percent of bosses – a troubling figure – are described by workers as not supportive.

As to the positive conclusions of the study, one is that that over 80 percent of workers believe they get to solve problems and experiment with their own ideas. This clearly hails as a cherished feature of work. Certainly, workers should be encouraged to come up with ideas for problem-solving, and ought to be asked routinely about what they would recommend as the best way to address issues in their jobs. That’s where the corny idea of a suggestion box is far from corny at all. And as long as they do it with respect, encourage them to disagree with you. As Freud explained it, “The key to a healthy personality is the tolerance of contradiction.”

Workers themselves have it in their power to make a difference with the study’s description of the American workplace as grueling, hostile and stressful. Start by interacting with your fellow workers with respect. A philosophy of kindness will eventually be imitated, and could soon permeate the workplace’s atmosphere. And if your workplace lacks a suggestion box, quietly try to leave a copy of this column where the boss will see it.

 

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Greg Blass
Greg has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He is a former Suffolk County Family Court judge, six-term Suffolk County legislator and commissioner of Social Services. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a board member of several charities. He lives in Jamesport. Email Greg