COMMENT:

"To have and to hold, till death do we part." Words spoken to a spouse as a lifelong commitment. The only issue is, those words should have been spoken to your job.

In today's world, we spend more waking hours surrounded by colleagues at work than by family at home. The emotional impact this time at work has on us should not be underestimated. We are very much influenced by our "work family" and this flows into all aspects of our lives.

Workplaces are breeding grounds for conspiracies, conflict and confrontation. Although cooperation is the goal, the reality is workplaces can be abrasive and breeding grounds of emotional damage.

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How often have you felt left out because you weren't the one being invited to after-work drinks? Or do you ever feel like you just don't get on with those around you at work?

Through actively aggressive actions such as insults or threats, through to passive aggressive behaviour such as not saying good morning or not including certain people, we can all suffer emotional damage at the hands of our colleagues.

The short-term effects of this on us may not be noticeable or significant, but given time, an inescapable dread can begin to surround us at the workplace and outside of the workplace in anticipation of going to work. This is not good and increases our stress levels and worry.

The combination of small things, which may seem negligible on their own, can combine into something huge and eventually come crashing down in the form of an incident or a reaction to something.

At the more explosive end of the spectrum, is verbal abuse, or worse still, violence. All of these can result in a disciplinary process or a personal grievance being pursued. As with most things, prevention is the best cure.

In the same way that a physical challenge can be met with preparation and training of the body, so too can a mental challenge be met with preparation and training of the mind.

The health and fitness revolution is upon us.

People pursue being healthy in an attempt to live longer and as a sign of affluence. The next big personal revolution is going to be mental health and fitness, improving the ability to handle and identify conflict, abuse and, more importantly, to be able to engage in healthy conflict in a respectable manner. This will help to ensure a cohesive working environment.

The identification of methods, triggers, responses and techniques to handling issues in general but also in the workplace will have an immense benefit for employees. Cultivation of these skills will improve interactions and productivity in the workplace.

As well as this, having a strong, practiced mind will make people more resilient to what can often be challenging circumstances present in today's society and workplaces.

Besides the benefits to the employee of developing a stronger character that will enhance their life experience and give them a more fulfilled and desirable life, the employer also has the advantage of a well-adjusted employee, exhibiting skills that presents them as a potential leader and someone on whom the employer can rely.

Another often overlooked aspect is the changing culture of recent times where children are mollycoddled, sheltered and protected from hurt and confrontation.

Although seemingly good in principle, the difficulty comes later in life when these people don't know how to deal with confrontational situations. Often they lack the skills to stand up for themselves and their interests.

They are highly agreeable and don't wish to engage in conflict, which inevitably has a festering effect, meaning that once the wound eventually pops, the result is much worse than it would have been had it been addressed earlier.

This overly passive approach provides a path for bullying behaviour to breed and develop.

To remedy the situation in the workplace, we suggest that dispute prevention and resolution training be provided and that those in managerial positions be required to have skills in identifying and managing conflict.

We further highly recommend using specialised external agencies in developing best practices in dealing with issues in the workplace.

Small, proactive and early interventions will prevent much larger disaster further down the track.

Teaching people to have more mental fortitude will also enable them to handle any significant tragedy that may befall them, for example, the loss of a loved one.

Developing stronger, more desirable approaches to potential emotional issues will not only improve people's work life, but will also flow over into all aspects of their lives.

Often today, conflict and disagreement are wrongly deemed as offensive and undesirable when in reality, they are often desirable.

Conflict and disagreement often challenge conventions, bullies, and poorly thought out ideas.

If conflict and disagreement are skilfully delivered and received with respect, the outcomes will benefit everybody.

- Max Whitehead and Bernard van den Berg on behalf of the Whitehead Group – Employment Solutions.