Managing Stress and Conflict in Libraries
Stress and conflict in the workplace undermine performance and can make people mentally and physically ill, and research indicates that ever-increasing numbers of people are experiencing excessive pressure of this kind – including aggression and abuse – in our rapidly changing world of work.
This applies to libraries and information organizations as much as anywhere; indeed they can be particular targets for verbal and non-verbal violent behaviour through their accessibility to the public, and there are also employees of such organizations who are suffering, often in silence, from aggression, bullying and harassment from a work colleague.
Tackling – and preventing – conflict and stress effectively is a legal responsibility for management, and can result in significant benefits for the organization in terms of recruitment and retention, employee commitment, performance and productivity, customer satisfaction, organizational image and reputation, and avoidance of potential litigation.
Managing Stress and Conflict in Libraries defines clearly what should and should not be tolerated in a healthy and safe working environment, and introduces the reporting procedures and communication skills leading to conflict resolution, enabling both employees and managers to consider situations consistently based on risk assessment previously carried out. The chapters cover:
- Current health and safety concerns
- Are you at risk?
- The business case
- Risk assessment procedure
- Advice, guidance and legislation
- Taking action to solve interpersonal conflict
- Dealing with aggression and violence
- Support to be expected inside and outside the organization.
Also included are case studies, a glossary of health and safety terms, and sources of further information, including relevant legislation.
This book is essential reading for employees at all levels, and also for managers, team leaders, supervisors, personnel and human resources staff, complaints officers, union officers and anyone else in the information organization who may be called upon to deal with people.
When this book dropped through my letter box, I was highly intrigued by the title. I did not know what I would be sent for review, and this title took me totally by surprise.
Only recently I had been in a meeting discussing the fall-out from an incident in a workplace environment, where someone had been physically assaulted. We had discussed the safety issues and concerns which were raised by the victim and the clients who had witnessed the incident, and attended the meeting. I could not wait to open this book.
It is not a particularly savoury topic, but the book highlights a very important set of growing issues and concerns for the professional workplace, and I was pleased to see it in publication.
We live in a society where aggression and violence is a growing problem and in a current environment where the government is investing an extra £5 million in advisors for GPs surgeries to assist with mental health problems. Therefore publications that highlight causes of stress-related disorders, caused by work-related stress or external factors, can only be beneficial. Unfortunately, I have to describe this book as must-have reading material for all workplace staff.
The book is clearly laid out to enable the reader to select chapters relating to the specific issues. The glossary provides explanations for the acronyms used for the various professional organisations and the legislation referenced within the content. Throughout the book, the author has provided full names and acronyms of the organisations and legislation which are used as a reminder for the reader as they work through each chapter and section. It is written in good plain English that can be easily understood by employees and managers alike.
Reading through the first chapter, it is apparent that workplace bullying needs to be dealt with in a less tolerant manner. One in ten employees have suffered bullying as the statistics demonstrate; the reporting of bullying is not taking place and the issue is being swept under the carpet in some instances.
In the second chapter, the section on “what counts as aggressive and abusive behaviour?” highlights types of behaviours that some may not have acknowledged as bullying or aggressive tactics.
The chapter instigated thoughts about how many readers would look through this list and tick off “yes that’s happened to me”. Many will have accepted the behaviour at the time it happened and have viewed it as “normal” behaviour. In the middle of the spectrum, how many managers would go through the list and think “we don’t behave like this in our organisation”? This attitude of total denial would be quite counterproductive to inducing employees to come forward to report bullying. At the opposite end of the spectrum, how many readers would peruse the list and recognise that they have inflicted some of this behaviour, knowingly or otherwise on another? Hopefully it would make them think about their behaviour before repeating it, if they have identified any of the antisocial traits described.
Whichever thoughts are elicited, the information set out provides a clear understanding of what bullying and aggression consists of.
The business case demonstrates that there should be clear guidelines of exactly what the management’s commitment to staff should be, and that there is a fine line between strong management styles and bullying. The ethical practices that an organisation promotes internally are an important indicator to staff to demonstrate where its boundaries lie with regard to what it will tolerate as acceptable or unacceptable behaviour from its workforce. The book highlights the negative aspects that an organisation can be affected by a high staff turnover, exposure to litigation and reputational risk, if it does not fully address aggressive behaviour and bullying.
Risk assessment guidelines have been set out for the reader with a clear explanation of what risk assessment is and where the legal obligations lie. It addresses safety issues for those who deal with members of the public. This is followed by a chapter on how to carry out a risk assessment under various Acts and Regulations. It highlights the importance of maintaining accurate and up-to-date risk assessment records, and making revisions to the records and procedures as appropriate, or when circumstances change. Health and Safety Law covers the risks associated with stress and violence, and not just the physical dangers of accidents from poor office maintenance, the use of old or broken equipment or injury caused through lifting heavy items.
Chapter 6 highlights the main pieces of legislation that are relevant and the preventative measures that can be taken both by management and employees.
Chapter 7 walks the reader through a step-by-step approach about what to do if there is a problem. It considers what to do if management do not think there is a problem and the various ways to find a resolution. It includes writing procedures and then checking that the procedures that have been implemented, actually work before a problem arises.
Some of the advice in chapter 8 which deals with actual aggression and violence is pure common sense. However, reinforcement of common sense can assist a potential victim who is in a fight or flight situation and needs to think and act quickly. It also covers staff guidelines and a training element as part of the advice offered. It is followed by what to do after an incident, reporting it, assisting the victim(s) and ensuring they receive adequate support, which could be long-term and then using a “lessons learned” approach to try and improve on procedures that are already in place. The section dealing with victim support offers very good advice in how to provide adequate support. The Witness Service offered by the Court system can provide excellent advice to a victim of violent crime, in a caring and practical way. The effect of a crime on others who may have witnessed the abuse is an important factor that the book takes into consideration.
I noticed, purely for my own interest, that chapter 10 called “You are not alone” did not cover any actual physical assault cases. An example would have been very useful for employers in cases where it has happened for comparison purposes, and to demonstrate how the matter was dealt with by the organisation and the authorities. The cases described makes sad reading, especially where the victim has not had the support they should have had and has moved on, rather than continue to work in an abusive environment, without support. The book ends somewhat abruptly at this chapter; it would have been useful to have had some sort of commentary or role-playing on how the negative outcomes of these cases could have had more positive outcomes if certain actions had been taken, and viewed from different stances.
There are two further issues I would have liked to have included in the book:
- Imagine a current (not new) employee has been convicted of assault on another
outside of the workplace. What would be the employees’ legal responsibility be to
disclosing his/her conviction to the organisation at any time while in this employment?
What action would the organisation need to undertake to ensure the safety of colleagues and service users/clients who might be exposed to that person? Prevention is the key issue. KYC checks which include criminal checks and should also have a standard procedure, are made on commencement of employment, but do not appear to be an ongoing regular process or a legal requirement for the employee to disclose their conviction.
- Imagine another scenario of an employer who has an employee who has developed mental health issues that were not caused by their working environment, but may pose a risk to others at work. The employee has no history of aggression or violence towards others. What are the implications in conjunction with Occupational Health and Safety Regulations? Where do the rights of the ill employee and the rights of colleagues and service users/clients become clouded/grey issues?
Finally, the appendices provide valuable reference resources for professional contacts and further education on this huge and difficult subject. The ways that people interact with each other in the workplace are vastly variable, and peoples’ behavioural styles at work should be a part of the learning process. The information provided in the book could be used to compile or update acceptable behavioural guidelines as part of induction and compliance programmes for new employees. It could also be used as a reference tool for management to communicate regular updates to ensure all staff are made aware of new developments on this important issue.
Jane Macoustra, Tai-Pan Research, Sutton, Surrey, UK
Library Management, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, 2008, pp. 624-627
LIBRARIES and information organisations were never the oases of perfect behaviour and calm stereotyped in films and television and (one recalls) by careers teachers.
Disagreeable behaviour from colleagues or readers was usually dismissed as “part of life”, that is – “put up with it”.
In recent years, there has been a general change in attitude; stress and conflict have been identified as significant causes of physical and mental illness and as avoidable costs to organisations, and are now seen as a major part of health and safety risks at work. This book provides analysis and guidance for managers and staff at all levels of an organisation: on what to do and how to change the workplace for the better as far as humanly possible.
The author is particularly qualified in this field: an information consultant and website publisher specialising in health and safety information, she also brings to the book her experience in information management in industry, and in government as Head of Information Services for the Health and Safety Executive.
Effectively tackling harassment, bullying, aggression – and even violence – at work, and preventing them whenever possible, is a responsibility for managers under health and safety legislation in the United Kingdom and many other countries. The book defines what should not be tolerated and lays out the reporting procedures and communication skills essential to resolve conflicts.
Definitions of aggression, bullying, conflict and harassment are given early in the book; defining these terms is crucial to help people identify inappropriate behaviour.
Each chapter begins with a summary in bullet-point format. Points to reflect on at the end of each chapter prompt the reader to consider how the issues discussed might apply to an individual situation.
Checklists and sample documents throughout the book give immediate cues on how to begin working on a particular problem, for example record keeping, training, designing counters to protect staff, or queue management to avoid queue jumping and aggression. Four useful appendices identify some resources in publications, websites, advice centres and online legislation.
The initial chapters cover the range of legislation in place to minimise workplace stress and violence, the range of publications that offer help, the organisational costs and benefits of health and safety measures, and how to assess and manage risks and build a business case for a health and safety system.
These set the scene for chapters on how to proceed when a problem of staff relationships has been identified, how to reduce the risk of aggression or violence from users, and what support is available after an incident of overt aggression.
These nine chapters address best practice. The final chapter, entitled You are Not Alone, contains eleven case studies from individuals in various information sectors, sent to the author following a request in Library + Information Gazette in December 2006. These are therefore real and recent accounts of library staff subjected to harassment or aggression by colleagues in their work environment. The studies also relate and how these situations adversely affected the mental and physical health of the staff concerned. Several of these cases were not resolved in a satisfactory way, and some not at all, save by the injured party resigning their post without redress or compensation. The “part of life so put up with it” attitude is not yet vanquished.
The book is brief, practical, essential reading for managers who have health and safety responsibilities. It would be a worthwhile read for staff at all levels, as best practice, or to diagnose a problem and begin to address it.
Stress and conflict have been identified as significant causes of mental illness.
This book provides analysis and guidance for managers and staff at all levels.
It is brief, practical essential reading for managers who have health and safety responsibilities.
* * * *
MmIT, Vol. 34, No. 2, May 2008, p. 52
Pandora’s Box – lots of bad things and only one or two good ones. Whenever we get on to stress and conflict, as was said about culture, I reach for my gun. Get on with it and stop whingeing: managers are there to manage and, if you think strong management is really bullying, well join the real world. We live in times of change, so keep up. Stress and bullying and harassment are usually in the minds of self-styled and alleged victims so the whole thing is much ado about nothing. Organizations get worried about compliance with health and safety law and new fashions in risk management. Libraries are no different from anyone else in putting customers first, and so cannot complain when customers stand up for their rights. OK, we live in a violent world but surely libraries are oases of tranquillity – what’s this I hear about violence and conflict and stress?
I hope that the first paragraph of this review has got you really angry. It’s deliberately made up of controversial clichés, put-downs, assertions and assumptions that all, insidiously, desensitize our awareness of stress and conflict at work. That leads to indifference and nothing gets done about it. It’s a field where all kinds of nostrums are on offer – making sure the working environment is safe, making sure employers take responsibility, making sure employees stay alert (and even take self-defence), providing counselling, using the grievance procedure, redesigning jobs, managing change, being sensitive to gender and race issues, knowing current law, and making sure training is in place. Easy to say and hard to do, easy to say and hard to believe in.
Stress and conflict seem to come from two main directions – from employers, managers and other employees, on the one hand, and from customers or users, on the other hand. Revealingly, when Sheila Pantry, author of this new book (and of many valuable and timely books on library work – check the Facet list), contacted subscribers to the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, the UK professional body formerly called The Library Association) Library and Information Gazette in 2006, asking for case-study materials of stress and conflict, of the ones she got back (and I’m extrapolating from the ten or so she includes in this new book) all of them attributed stress and conflict to managers and colleagues. Some managers, some colleagues, I’d say. Bullying, bitchiness, sarcasm, jealousy, sexual predation, sickness – a list of symptoms.
What I find both sad and revealing about this is not so much that stress and conflict vis-à-vis customers or users has been parked (readers of this book will find useful things here about that but the main emphasis of the book is stress and conflict arising within the library, from hostile dynamics among employees and between employees and employers). What is of real interest is that Pantry’s respondents said that stress and conflict came from their relations with other employees, as well of course as that Pantry decided to use their evidence. What this indicates to me is that stress and conflict among employees, and between employees and employers, is the really big one, and that, unless that it dealt with, the rest is mere puff.
As a result, the test for me of this book was how it really, and I mean really, dealt with the heart of the matter. It’s certainly wise to start (at the end, if you don’t mind) with Pantry’s sensible observation that stress and conflict work along a continuum of ‘firmness, aggression, and bullying’. This reminds me of that age-old distinction between assertiveness and aggression that I recall from old training days. She is right, also, to add something else of central relevance: that stress and conflict must be seen in the context of perception and reality: if, as people say, a lot of it is in the mind (above all of victims), then some understanding of what is ‘real’, evidentially and empirically, is essential.
For that reason, she rightly cites applicable law (England and Wales, health and safety law in the main, in the text and backed up in appendices). Compliance with and knowledge of the law takes us some of the way. Then there is risk management, a real vogue at present with its own infrastructure of data management, form completion, calibration and the rest. Guidance is given on how risk assessment works and advice is given on procedures. This is helpful stuff and I’m glad it’s there. It’s all too easy, however, to equate such compliance and such procedures with keeping premises and equipment safe to operate, safe to live with at work, and all too easy to ignore the mental, emotional, personal, interpersonal aspects of health and safety and risk management. Easy, in fact, to imagine that, if you get the externals right, the internals will take care of themselves.
The continuum idea (that stress and conflict are not crude dichotomies, like good and evil) and the perception/reality idea (it is really happening to me? and how can I convince you that it is?) are, in my book, central to an understanding of stress and conflict at work. You only have to work to know that. Add the beguiling reliance on procedures (from compliance and risk to counselling and victim support), and the question of whether it really works, and we have three criteria of real importance that this book provokes. We should all be applying them constantly.
Add one more for (dis)comfort: in an early chapter on current concerns worldwide (the book is mainly UK-based, nodding only to international practice), Pantry refers to statements about ‘a culture of respect’ at work, ‘dignity at work’, and so forth. Rhetoric is another twist in the tale of stress and conflict. Human resource and organizational development rhetoric these days has truly mastered the art of blandishment, and the impression is, in many workplaces, that employers are truly caring, that procedures are in place and effective, that emotional intelligence is alive and well among managers (they get leadership training for this), and that gender and racial sensitivity prevail in the workplace. Pantry’s case-studies put rather a large question-mark over that kind of thinking.
Fortunately, she is sensible and practical enough to cut through the verbiage and provide down-to-earth advice about training – what it can and should achieve, and when it’s most needed. For anyone reading this book – and it should be employees, managers, trainers, HR folk involved with information specialists, trade union guys and the like – her check-lists for diagnosing situations which need dealing with and for constructing effective and credible training are particularly useful.
She is an advocate but without naïve zeal, clearly not buying into the ‘training-as-panacea’ argument (even though CILIP and other bodies are only too keen to provide it). Hovering over the whole thing, of course, is the view – every librarian would come to my aid when I say this – that library and information work is not stressful and that there is little conflict. Pantry, again helpfully, rehearses some of the main causes why stress and conflict are as alive and well in libraries as anywhere else – public service, management of change, customer ethos, a rights-based attitude, greater awareness of what harassment actually is, and a common perception that violence is increasing. She is right to pick out employees who work alone – think of school librarians – and to remind us that the gender issue is sociology-on-stilts for the genuine fears men and women have about bullying of any kind.
There is a further important assumption here worth discussing briefly: that no working environment can be wholly risk-free. Just as no form of information service can be wholly without obligation and liability. This helps Pantry to put her guidelines and checklists into proper perspective: work will never be utopian, change causes inevitable conflict at times, and men and women, employees and managers don’t and can’t always agree. Turning to the grievance procedure (discussed in the book) or expecting long-term victim support might be good but they’re no substitute for preventative action. This is where training and awareness come in, and this book is a timely and concise advocate of taking realistic steps to design and delivery it.
Between a rock and hard place: anyone writing anything on stress and conflict faces this dilemma – come across too strong and you’re seen as a managerial fascist, come across too understanding and conciliatory and you’re seen as a sentimentalist. Pantry steers a good course between the two, in a book that will be a useful addition to the professional collection and the practitioner’s library. Appendices (bibliography, websites, advice centres, relevant law) add to its value.
For another edition I would have taken the whole thing more explicitly into the online domain (where employee surveillance, flaming, editorial responsibility, and much else present serious topical challenges to the management of stress and conflict – think for instance of VLEs or virtual learning environments), added relationships between library and information specialists and other types of professional, enhanced situations where information specialists work in the advice field, and offered rather more differentiated commentary on personality types. If librarians do whinge about stress and find conflict and change difficult to manage, I’d rather not subscribe to some stereotype of the professional to deal with it. A good book but one, I think, with a finite life of two or so years. One final point: conflict is not necessarily negative – a genteel assumption that merits closer examination.
Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen
Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 40(3), September 2008, p. 223
This book defines clearly what should and should not be tolerated in a healthy and safe working environment, and introduces the reporting procedures and communication skills leading to conflict resolution, enabling both employees and managers to consider situations consistently, based on risk assessment previously carried out.
It is essential reading for employees at all levels, but will be of particular interest to managers, team leaders, supervisors, personnel and human resources staff, complaints officers and union officers.
YLN Newsletter, Summer 2007, No. 113. p. 7
Resolving stressful situations
The telling eight case studies at the end of this book make depressing reading but they will surely convince readers of the importance of addressing the issues of stress and conflict in the workplace.
The book was written in response to a need for clarification of workplace health and safety requirements.
It begins by exploring current legislation and discussing the responsibilities of managers in implementing it. This is clearly explained and it is followed by a useful discussion on conducting the necessary risk assessments. These include such issues as harassment and aggression, with plenty of helpful, practical advice.
The chapter about why libraries are targets for aggression does not make comfortable reading, because the aggression can be either internally or externally generated. We are not only taking about threatening behaviour from customers, but insidious aggression within the workplace, which may take various forms, all of which can undermine confidence and cause emotional stress.
The main thrust of this book is an examination of ways of managing and resolving stressful situations. This is where it succeeds. The author discusses security in some detail and provides a useful checklist of measures that decrease the likelihood of violence, along with guidelines for dealing with incidents.
Appropriate reporting procedures and communication skills are an important part of managing and resolving stress and conflict, and these are dealt with in some detail.
Throughout, the advice is eminently sensible and realistic.
This is a very approachable book, which is well laid out and indexed. Its appendixes contain an extensive bibliography, supportive websites, advice centres and relevant legislation. It should be essential reading for everyone in the information world. The author deserves our congratulations.
Update, April 2008, Vol. 7, No. 4, p. 47
Take the sting out of workplace aggro
Kim Thomas welcomes a librarian’s guide to coping with bullying, violence and harassment
The popular perception of libraries as tranquil retreats from the hurly-burly of everyday life is, as readers will know, misplaced. Librarians can find themselves on the receiving end of verbal, and occasionally physical, abuse from library users, and bullying and harassment are as likely to happen in a library as in any other workplace.
Sheila Pantry has drawn up a useful guide to dealing with the stresses of working in a library. In a clearly laid out book, she outlines the causes of stress, the practical steps librarians can take to deal with it, and the legal responsibilities that managers have for the wellbeing of their staff. As she points out, the “easy access, long opening hours and friendly, helpful staff” make libraries welcoming places to visit, but heighten the vulnerability of those who work in them.
The book contains useful advice on dealing with problems before they escalate out of control. Pantry explains how to carry out risk assessments, how to create a good working environment, and how to follow a grievance procedure.
Occasionally, the advice steers perilously close to the blindingly obvious (“Should you find yourself in danger, your primary aim is to get away fast, avoiding violence”), but on the whole Pantry does a good job of describing the best approaches to dealing with bullying, aggression and harassment.
Pantry concludes the book with some emails sent her by CILIP members, recounting their experiences of stress in the workplace. Some of these accounts, mostly of bullying that had been inadequately dealt with by management, are hair-raising examples of what can happen if a potential problem isn’t nipped in the bud. Had they been included in the main body of the text, case studies such as these would have made the book a livelier and more engaging read.
That caveat aside, Managing Stress and Conflict in Libraries will prove a helpful resource both for those who work in libraries and their managers.
Information World Review, February 2008, p. 21
At first glance a book on managing stress and conflict in libraries might seem to have little appeal.
That would be a foolish misjudgement, for once the reader opens the cover it becomes clear that the author, a renowned health and safety information expert, with a world wide reputation, is writing about managing stress and conflict in libraries and information centres and the book, unlike most health and safety books published in Britain, is directed at an international readership.
Pantry opens with a chapter on “Current concerns worldwide”. The following chapters deal with are you at risk, the business case, risk assessment, carrying out risk assessments, advice, guidance and legislation, all of which lead to the concluding chapters on: now is the time for you to act, dealing with aggression and violence, support you can expect after an incident and finishing off for the victim of stress and conflict with a chapter – You are not alone – which offers encouragement and support.
The author writes about the practical issues, such as job design considerations, on the move, record keeping and training. Dealing with an issue that has come close to the top of the health and safety agenda in recent years, bullying, Pantry links conflict with bullying. Pantry quotes numerous authoritative international guidance sources and provides readers with a list of very useful websites to visit for advice, including the HSA’s website, www.hsa.ie.
This is a book that health and safety advisors in local authorities (who are responsible for many of the countries libraries), universities and other organisations who control libraries or information centres should read.
Health and Safety Review, September 2007, Vol. 12, No. 7
While libraries are stereotyped as calm, quiet places they can also be particularly vulnerable to aggression and conflict. Dealing with members of the public, working with students experiencing stressful situations in their own lives and keeping late opening hours with reduced numbers of staff can put a strain on employees who still firmly believe in the ethos of trying to help their users. “Managing Stress and Conflict in Libraries” provides managers and staff with practical advice on what behaviours should be tolerated given the current health and safety legislation, reporting procedures, conflict resolution skills and risk assessments.
Sheila Pantry’s style is eminently practical. Each chapter starts with a few bullet points indicating what it will cover and ends with a recap of the main points or, where appropriate, reflective questions to consider about the reader’s own workplace environment. Helpful checklists are included throughout the text, and time-saving sample documents that could easily be adapted, such as the ratings system for reported incidents to help to identify triggers and solutions, are perfect for a practical guide.
The book’s greatest strengths are its practicality and the author’s obvious experience passed on in realistic advice, such as designing counters to protect staff and queue management to avoid aggression from queue jumpers. The bibliography is an extensive resource offering a good assortment of further reading. In contrast Appendix B, which lists recommended websites, feels lightweight and would have benefited greatly from brief annotations about what the site covers. For instance, the Carole Spiers Group may be unfamiliar to most readers. Appendix C reverts to a more useful format of an annotated list of advice centres, including contact details and opening hours.
The book is very up to date; URLs work as expected of a book written in 2007 and the statistics used are mostly from that year. Some concerns may be raised about the author’s reliance on the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) as the recommended source of legislation throughout the book, without a disclaimer that the site only provides legislation as published. It means that there may have been amendments that were overlooked, such as the Human Rights Act of 1998, which was amended after the OPSI version was published.
As for target readership, managerial employees will be most interested in this book, but it would be a worthwhile read for all staff. The shocking instances of bullying and stress in case studies in chapter 10 are particularly compelling; managers will want to read this section and reflect on their own services. There are plenty of books about stress and bullying in the workplace but few specifically covering the library sector. Even fewer are so readable and full of practical suggestions.
Mandy Webster is Library & Information Services Manager at Browne Jacobson and co-author of BIALL Handbook of Legal Information Management and Knowledge Management: Social, cultural and theoretical perspectives, along with many articles and reviews.
Who would immediately think of a library as a site of conflict or stress, or even verbal and physical violence?
Well, as the introduction to this latest book states, the types of stress and conflict in the workplace which can undermine performance and make people mentally and physically ill are now widely experienced by workers in all walks of life, including in libraries and information organisations, which as sitting targets, can be easily accessed by the public. Also, as in other organisations, a proportion of library staff suffers aggression, abuse, bullying and harassment from a colleague at work.
This 140-page, cheerfully coloured and inviting softback has an up-front-accessible glossary, and four terminal appendices of: bibliography; websites; advice centres and legislation. The author’s stated aim is to: ‘… define clearly what should and should not be tolerated in a healthy and safe working environment … and to introduce the reporting procedures and communication skills essential in conflict resolution, enabling both employees and managers to consider situations consistently based on previously carried out risk assessment’.
The main text is organised into ten chapters and a brief introduction. This establishes that tackling and preventing conflict and stress effectively is a management responsibility under UK and many other countries’ health and safety legislation, with significant benefits for the organisation. These could include: recruitment and retention; employee commitment, performance and productivity; customer satisfaction; organizational image and reputation; and avoidance of potential litigation.
Chapter 1. Current concerns worldwide: focuses on today’s multi-faceted problem of maintaining safety and health amid the fast changing ethics of workforce and workplace environment. It explores current research and legislation; definitions of violence, stress and harassment at work; costs of workplace stress and bullying; and tackling the problem. Like all of the chapters, this one ends with a revision tail-piece of ‘Points to reflect upon’.
Chapter 2. Asks “Are you at risk?” and proceeds to examine in amazing detail the often surprising evidence and causes of aggressive and abusive behaviour and seemingly mindless vandalism. Issues include: Why information centres and libraries? What are the causes? What counts as aggressive and abusive behaviour?
Chapter 3. The business case: sets out the positive benefits for business which can result from: keeping staff involved and informed about change; dealing with internal conflict, managerial and external pressure; the importance of management commitment to staff; and probably the most controversial issue – strong management or bullying … the fine line…?
Chapters 4 and 5 define and clarify risk assessment in principle and practice, including legal responsibilities and a step-by-step talk-through of the actual procedure.
The remaining five chapters make up the indispensable lifeline of advice, guidance, legislation, preventative measures, implementation, monitoring; what to do if … your management thinks there is no problem … and … what if you and your colleagues do have a problem?
The RoSPA Occupational Safety & Health Journal, October 2007, p. 34
Sheila Pantry OBE BA FCLIP manages an independent information services consultancy and electronic publishing business, including websites. She has had a long and varied career in information management in a range of industry sectors, and also in government as Head of Information Services for the Health and Safety Executive. She specializes in worldwide occupational health and safety information and is an experienced trainer, writer, editor and lecturer.
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