Your job sucks and everybody knows it. Since the economy went belly-up, you’ve been asked to do a lot more with a lot fewer resources. You’re stretched and tired and you stopped caring months ago.
You can’t quit and your boss knows it, so you get back at him the only ways you can — you don’t do your work. You take lunch and don’t come back for hours. You stop sitting in with the guys at lunch.
Mark Kasrel, a professional counselor, executive coach, and executive-in-residence at Rider University, says these passive-aggressive behaviors are sure warning signs of unrest and conflict in the workplace. And the responsibility to fix it starts with the boss.
Kasrel will present “The Coaching Involved with Conflict Management & Resolution in the Workplace” on Thursday, June 17, at 8:30 a.m. in the student center at Rider University. Cost: $495. Call 609-896-5255 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The program is run through the Executive Center for Education and Development (EXCEED), Rider’s latest program to reach out to area companies by offering tailored programs on everything from marketing and supply chain management to employee/employer relationships and performance enhancement. EXCEED is in its infancy, but Kasrel says the program is designed to offer custom solutions to individual companies, rather than cookie-cutter seminars.
Kasrel’s conflict management workshop is one of the occasional general-topic programs, but he says it works because many of the problems companies face regarding employee engagement and anger issues are similar.
They are also similar to family issues, which is where Kasrel got his start more than 25 years ago. Kasrel grew up in Princeton (his father was an optometrist who had a practice here for several years), but says he was a “problem child.” Some time at Valley Forge Military Institute “straightened my butt right out,” he says, and led him to pursue a joint bachelor’s in biology and physics from Wesleyan. He later got his master’s in counseling and group processes from Seton Hall and started his career as a family counselor.
But Kasrel disliked the benefits requirements and started working with more executive and business clients, doing executive coaching and career direction counseling. That part of his practice soon became his main avenue. Today he sees numerous corporate and executive types and even is the professional coach of Greg Olsen, the founder of Sensors Unlimited and well-known Princeton entrepreneur.
Olsen even wrote about Kasrel in his book, “By Any Means Necessary,” which details Olsen’s journey from young entrepreneur to citizen astronaut and was featured in the June 2 edition of U.S. 1. Olsen writes that Kasrel, who counseled at Sensors Unlimited for 19 years, was brought on to make good employees into excellent ones, rather than simply being a sounding board for employee grievances.
Olsen will appear at an event for self-published authors (and those interested in becoming one) sponsored by U.S 1 on Wednesday, June 16, at 5 p.m. at tre Piani restaurant in Princeton Forrestal Village. The event is free and open to the public.
#b#Real or imagined, it doesn’t matter.#/b# Some people complain about everything, and you know that when you hire them. “If you hire a curmudgeon, you’re not going to change that person in the workplace,” Kasrel says.
But the guy who came in bouncy and jovial and now takes lunch at his cubicle, way in the back of the office, is a definite signal that something is wrong. “It’s probably no different than what a parent would do,” Kasrel says. If you notice that your child is suddenly withdrawn, parents need to step in.
Likewise, managers and bosses need to recognize the signs of budding anger. An employee might feel resentful toward the company for a lot of reasons — he’s frustrated that downsizing has heaped more work onto his busy desk, he feels his suggestions are being dismissed, he feels the boss favors someone else because she says good morning to other employees but not to him.
Like parents, bosses are responsible for the engagement levels of their employees. They need to recognize symptoms of discontent. But they also need to understand that whether the employee is imagining a slight or he really is being slighted is irrelevant. The employee feels that something is wrong, and that must be dealt with before it turns into depression, family troubles, or more overt forms of conflict.
#b#When the manager hates his job.#/b# Supervisors are responsible for making sure employees are engaged in the company, but Kasrel says things get knotty when the supervisor himself is disengaged.
Kasrel provides counseling to executives through a group called TAB (The Alternative Board), where high-level executives gather once a month and “take their armor off.” At these meetings, he says, he hears a familiar refrain from executives — that life at the top is no picnic, and that managers have it harder because they have their own problems to deal with on top of everyone else’s.
These executives, however, are the motivated sort who want to better themselves and their organizations. Trouble brews when the manager who used to walk the halls no longer stops in for a visit. Managers who feel disengaged are not likely to motivate their staffs, and the company entropies from there.
What managers can do to fix that, at least for a start, he says, is to remember what it was about the job or the company that drew then to it in the first place. “I know how it sounds, but if you can’t find one thing about your job that makes you smile, it might be time to start looking for something else,” he says.
But if you can find it, let it get you going. For many upper-level employees, joy is found in results — team building, new product lines. For other employees, joy is found not in tasks but in feeling as if their work is valued. “Money’s a level playing field,” Kasrel says. “People work for more than money. They want to feel purposeful and they want to develop a mastery in something.”
#b#Advice for the work-bound.#/b# Rider recently graduated yet another class of young hopefuls, and Kasrel worked with many who have done work-study programs at area companies. His advice for those entering the professional world, in regard to conflict management, is a measure of avoidance.
Essentially, he says, there are three levels of engagement at any company: those who are very engaged, the majority who are “workhorses” who do their jobs and punch out at 5, and those who are very disengaged. This last group is fairly toxic, Kasrel admits. While he does not advocate avoiding conflict — avoiding troubled employees just lets the problem brew — he encourages young employees to network within the company’s ring of highly engaged employees.
Steer clear of the people who spend their days complaining about the place and instead learn good habits from those who are passionate about their jobs. You might find you don’t want to stay where you are, but you will learn a lot about what it takes to achieve success.
This is the area of emotional intelligence, a relatively new way of looking at the way people view their worlds. “About two-thirds of success in the workplace has nothing to do with skills,” he says. And we can learn from people at every end of the emotional intelligence spectrum. People do not all see the world the way you do — some are more outgoing, some are more introverted. But they all have insight to offer, he says. And in the end, making people feel as if they matter to their employers is what will squelch workplace conflict and make for a better company.