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Financial Danger, Workplace Stress, And Organizational Empathy


“Financial Danger, Workplace Stress, And Organizational Empathy”

Danger creates stress which, if unresolved, eventually creates conflict in the workplace. In 1901, mining accidents killed 441 men, which led to a great United Mine Workers strike in 1902 when 140,000 laborers walked off the job. While dangerous jobs still exist today, few Americans worry about being crushed to death in their workplace. Like the miners in 1902 crushed physically without medical care, some workers in 2005 fear being crushed financially without affordable healthcare.

Many Americans are in financial danger by situations outside their control.

There are retired senior workers, labor and management, who gave their best for 40 years to one or two employers, who rarely missed work or took sick leave, yet whose pensions or retirement benefits are gone due to corporate thieves (for example, Ivan Boesky, Charles Keating, Michael Milken, and Kenneth Lay). America is rampant with “Me-ism” and “get all you can before the other shoe drops.” Faithful and excellent employees with 5-15 years seniority often go to work wondering if a pink slip will start sliding their American dream irreversibly down a tragic slope. Everyone knows that loyal, hardworking persons who have “given all” suddenly may be put on the street.

Like the miners of 1902, all workers become angry when their health and livelihood are taken away, and their children will not have what they need. Many companies escort suddenly-terminated personnel off the property using law enforcement officers. People terminated without cause with no legal recourse often retaliate through theft, sabotage, or even violence. Such incidents are not good for morale and lunchroom chats.

Still, all persons do not respond similarly to the same events. Termination for one is relief for another. Reduced benefits create depression for one, but a job search for another. One person has a strong, independent personality and enormous financial coping mechanisms, such as good investments, yet is devastated by a loved one suffering a non-fatal tragedy. Another person has a weak, dependent personality and a loved one dying of a horrible disease, yet functions well day after day with a religious faith or faith community.

Since there are real financial dangers which produce stress for all organizations, what can be done to reduce the possibilities for workplace conflict? There are many educational programs to train people, and many of these are generally effective. Still, most workers today feel the pressure of an uncertain labor market.

Organizational Empathy [OE] is a term often used to describe “emotional intelligence” in organizations, how to accept, understand, and maximize the emotional content of all persons for organizational purposes.

OE, as I define it, is an organizational philosophy to commit to the highest standards of policy and practice precisely because the employment relationship is fragile and may be short. Labor and management still have their adversarial roles (labor = best pay/benefits; management = best profits/cost reduction), but realize their relationship is only as durable as global competition will allow. OE demands the best in behaviors, and views all actions as affecting persons who are not different from, but who have the same human needs for integrity and honesty as other members of the group.

OE discourages the lowest workers from stealing pencils and faking sick leave, and the highest executives from stealing pensions and real sick leave. OE does not stop theft for there always will be thieves. OE does not stop disciplinary actions, terminations, downsizing, or outsourcing. These always will be needed. OE can serve as a vent, a conduit for good by reducing stress and workplace conflict when organizations commit to accept nothing less than relationships built on integrity and honesty, from the top down, from the bottom up. Healthier organizations will seek OE to preserve and extend their financial health.

OE will never be installed in organizations where simple greed is the rule. That does not stop organizational members from applying OE to their employment situation, without permission. Become an OE practitioner. Your personal stress level will drop. Conflict will be reduced around you.

You still may be laid off! But you will walk out the door knowing who you are and what you did—and so will everyone else. OE: Organizational Empathy = Optimum Effort! JDW


John Willis

John D. Willis, PhD is an expert in conflict dynamics and drivers, psychological and social; a practitioner in EEO grievances and conciliation; and, consultant to executives on conflict and ethics.  John earned his PhD from the University of Chicago, with concentration on the motives and justifications of the religious wars… MORE >

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