Prevention is better than cure
The new mantra for successful personnel management, especially in Hong Kong's stressful work environment, is "fix it before it's broken", according to a senior human resources executive.
Milly Liew, regional human resources director (Asia-Pacific) at G4S Security Services, believes prevention is the best policy. While grievance and disciplinary policies are important, they are not effective human resources (HR) tools for handling staff complaints, which often concern pay and benefits, she says.
"Most employees don't like to lodge formal complaints with the company, especially when the grievances concern their line managers. Apart from reprisals that will be damaging to their careers, they are afraid of running the risk of being branded troublemakers," she says.
But Liew stresses that proper grievance procedures are essential for handling serious situations such as those involving corruption and malpractice.
She says successful HR policies should be service-oriented to put staff first. "If you put some care and thought into it, even small things can achieve big results. For example, just a simple recreation room with a television, a few computers and a coffee machine could go a long way in boosting staff morale and productivity because it makes work more enjoyable."
David Wan, a certified councellor with the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, believes the nature of the job, working environment and organisational behaviour affect stress levels.
Wan teaches patients to use self-discipline and inward thinking - a philosophical understanding of oneself - to manage personal and occupational stress. He points out that working long hours often creates a feeling of being trapped in a monotonous job, which can be very stressful because it eats into a person's self-esteem. The solution is, he says, to add value and meaning to the job to motivate employees.
"For example, Disney tells its new recruits during staff orientation that it's in the business of providing happiness, which can immediately instil a sense of mission and commitment. Who wouldn't want to work for a company whose product is happiness?"
Wan explains that giving staff a genuine sense of value adds meaning to the job and makes them feel hopeful. "There is a local shop that sells Belgian chocolate and the couple who own the shop donate all proceeds to support a number of charitable organisations. You can imagine how motivated their employees are because they know every effort they make goes to improve the lives of the underprivileged."
Edward Kwong, a clinical psychologist at the Hong Kong Psychological Counselling Centre, says improving internal communications can reduce conflicts. "Work stress often comes from within, so people should try to calibrate themselves not to take on too many duties or set their goal too high to create unnecessary stress," he says. "We should not overlook the fact that sometimes physical fatigue can also cause stress."
- Let staff "build" their own recreation room, or at least have a say in what to install.
- Organise regular in-house sports events and social functions.
- Provide healthy menus or special treats in the staff canteen to create a caring setting.
- If companies make charitable donations, allow staff to have a say in selecting the charities.
- Set up a "de-stress room" fitted with punchbags and exercise equipment.
- If you must have a grievance channel or mediation service, make them open and fair, with both sides equally represented.