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How to Live to Fight Another Day: An Employee's Challenge

Updated on October 29, 2013

"Studs" Terkel

Studs Terkel is the author of the famous book entitled "Working"
Studs Terkel is the author of the famous book entitled "Working"

Most Common Problems Faced by Workers

John F. Kennedy once said, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." So it is at work. When problems arise, including those involving relations with customers, superiors, and coworker peers, we have to deal with them in order to survive and keep our job.

Among the many problems that can arise at work are some that come up most often, regardless of the nature of the work involved. In general these problems fall into the categories of job security, stress, and personal conflicts.

Especially in our recessionary economy, the prospect of a layoff looms over every employee's head like a dreadful dark cloud. Regardless of how good a job you do, circumstances might necessitate cutting back on the workforce. At this point, you would get a very impersonal letter telling you your services no longer are needed. The impersonal nature of such communication is very appropriate because we shouldn't take it personally at all.

The normal reaction of an employee working under such a threat is not to knock himself or herself out, because the result of effort might be dismissal. In a sense, this is a blessing because it reduces the stress of the workplace.

But for other employees, there's stress not only from the exacting nature of the job itself, but possibly from contact with people at work who cause irritation and anger.

If the job is one that requires meticulous attention to detail, an employee must learn to manage the stress by taking frequent breaks and sensing when the timing may be right for making a crucial decision or performing a delicate procedure.

Those employees who can perform well at such jobs consistently usually succeed as professionals.

The personal frictions that may develop between people at work are more difficult to handle than the job itself. There are methods of dealing with these circumstances that range from ignoring people to confronting them. Since confrontation can result in high stress or even a fight that would be grounds for dismissal, the choice of most workers is to evade, avoid, and ignore, as much as possible, the person who is causing anger at work.

When that person becomes ever-present, confrontation eventually must occur. At that time, the employee can only hope that the outcome will be favorable.

Of all the work difficulties, personal frictions are the most dangerous. The job security within the broader economy is something no one can control anyway. The stress of a meticulous job is something a person can learn to manage so as to endure and survive. But the danger of an angry showdown at work is an ever-present danger that could cause a catastrophe when least expected.

In cases where annoyance is blatant and amounts to illegal harassment, laws can be enforced to resolve the problem. But personal frictions that endure to make work-life uncomfortable are far more subtle, and can not be resolved easily. One can only keep one's fingers crossed that a favorable outcome will arise fortuitously.

This is the dark side of work. The bright side is that it's all in the game, and it's all better than unemployment (but not always by much).

What is the way to survive emotionally and come back from a weekend ready to start again on Monday? One way is to fall back on the old expression, which unfortunately appeared in a book that led to violence, although as it stands alone, is a true expression of faith in cooperation: "From each according to his or her abilities; to each according to his or her needs." (Karl Marx)

If we apply this rationale at work, it will lead us to a state of tolerance that might be the key to survival. Don't expect more from your co-workers, or perhaps customers you have to face, than those people have the ability to give. Don't accuse people of being lazy just because they don't appear to be as considerate or capable as yourself in some ways.

Accept people for the good traits that they do have, however slight those traits appear to be compared to the faults that keep getting on your nerves. Compliment people for the good they do, however slight it may be.

The other part is to try to give other people just what they need, no more, no less. Don't spin your wheels unnecessarily offering something the other person may or may not want. But do as the other person asks, provided that you are able to do so.

Labor Unions

The Labor "Market"

Outsourcing, crowdsourcing, the Great Recession, part-time and independent contractor work, and evasion of group medical insurance are factors considered by management in running a business. There are ethical considerations for some businesses, but others see only survival of the company at stake, and have taken drastic measures detrimental to employees in recent years.

When American labor is too expensive, the jobs can be sent overseas to workers happy to work for much less. New techniques like "crowdsourcing" are tempting some companies to cash in on labor that's cheap or even free. The recession has taken a heavy toll on Labor.

Employers are moving in the direction of cutting hours of permanent employees below the threshold past which company-paid health benefits must be provided. Other tactics to save money involve hiring people, especially new college grads with high-tech degrees, as independent contractors rather than employees, thus evading unemployment insurance tax, state disability tax, and other obligations of payroll departments to calculate and deduct income taxes.

In socialized nations, many workers belong to labor unions. But in the United States, it's only about ten percent of the work force, mostly in the public sector. In recent years, Republican elected leaders have targeted unions in an effort to reduce government spending on personnel.

While there always will be some inequality in wealth within the population of any nation, labor unions work hard against the spread of large spans of inequality between management and labor. When work becomes stressful and layoffs loom as threats, this inequality unfortunately can become the very negative focus of many workers, which is counterproductive to the success of the employer and also the peace of mind of the employee.

Because unions actually have their genesis in the industrial revolution era of the 18th and 19th Centuries, as protests against the injustices Karl Marx noted in his "Communist Manifesto," the leading capitalist nation, America, has many citizens opposed to the idea of labor unions. Corruption has existed within the labor movement just as it exists in any human institution.

It's a fact that the income of union workers is significantly higher, on average, than non-union workers. Also, because union workers have more job security and benefits, they generally are happier on the job. (See But this doesn't mean that disputes can't result nevertheless within the ranks of union members, or involving members opposed to union representatives' decisions.

There always will be stress at work, regardless of unionization or no unions. The kind of stress that's dangerous is the type that's off the charts. Handling a little stress is routine, but strong impact on the personal life and family is tragic and has to be avoided.

Doctors advise that workers have to avoid habits and lifestyles that are detrimental to their physical and emotional health, such as drinking, drugs, and other excessive behavior leading to depression and poor physical health.

Mind control is factor. Whatever can be done to avoid becoming negative would help for a worker who must be on the job every day in order to maintain a steady income.

Finally, some say that if human beings could communicate more perfectly, there would be far less misunderstanding among them. If people knew and understood the troubles of others, there would be more empathy and cooperation among workers, both with each other and in their relations with management. More than anything else, that seems to be the key to success.


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    • truthfornow profile image

      truthfornow 6 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      Conflict at work can be very stressful. A number of times I have wanted to quit a job because of a personal conflict. However, most it these issues passed with time.


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