Frustration is inevitable in just about any organization but the way it's expressed can increase risk exposure.
Human beings are rarely discussed as sources of risk. Safety courses and textbooks look right past them. Insurance inspectors don’t include them on their checklists. Risk audits and surveys are devoid of questions about them.
Yet employee behavior is the central issue in accidents -- and one of the most overlooked factors impacting employee behavior is frustration.
As an example, let’s consider an employee you presumably know quite well – yourself. Have you ever been frustrated? Of course you have. Are you aware of how you react? Perhaps not, even though your subsequent actions may carry high risk.
Here are 10 ways frustration can increase your risk exposure:
- Aggression: Suddenly attacking someone or something (they may or may not be related to the frustration) to vent feelings that have become highly charged. Example: walking to an office wall and kicking it because you are short of cash for an immediate need.
Aggressive behavior can increase risk exposure.
- Compensation: Devoting yourself increasingly to a pursuit to make up for a feeling of real or imagined inadequacy. Example: a zealous president of company's “25-Year Club” who never advanced in management.
- Conflict: Setting up a situation between two parties unrelated to your frustration that will erupt in a violent reaction similar to what you wish— but lack courage—to participate in. Example: sending a new employee to request something that has been forbidden.
- Conversion: Expressing emotional conflict in muscular, sensory, or bodily symptoms of disability, malfunctioning, or pain. Example: staying home with a headache that started after a pet project failed.
- Flight/Withdrawal: Running, physically or psychologically, from scene of frustration. Example: pouting in sullen silence, refusing friendly gestures for several days when an inspired idea is rejected.
Pouting in frustrated silence can increase risk exposure.
- Identification: Enhancing your self-esteem by patterning your behavior and adopting values of someone admired. Example: taking on mannerisms and pomposity of the boss as his “assistant to.”
- Projection: Protecting yourself from awareness of your undesirable traits by attributing them to others. Example: accusing a colleague of seeking the favorable publicity you subconsciously desire.
- Rationalization: Justifying undesirable behavior or statements by providing acceptable explanations. Example: putting yourself above traffic laws against jaywalking by explaining its “necessity.”
- Reaction-Formation: Expressing with force the exact opposite of behavior or attitude held, through repressing urges not acceptable to your consciousness at that moment. Example: refusing a long overdue (much needed) pay raise because it is less than you expected.
- Regression: Returning to an earlier immature behavior. Example: a rebuffed manager who takes over a subordinate's clerical duties.
These responses do not necessarily relieve frustration either. Each one is simply an adaptive recoiling, a substitution, an exhibit, a notice that the person is frustrated. Major accidents can be traced to virtually every one of these counteractions to frustration.
In today’s complex workplace, frustration is inevitable. Common triggers include:
- Unresolved ambivalence— two choices, neither of which is wholly acceptable. Unable to decide—flip-flopping between them—you become frustrated.
- Achievement blockage of a highly desired objective. You are foiled, baffled, defeated.
- Subconscious impulses that you feel driven to gratify—but you are blocked. When your best efforts, after a long and arduous time, are rendered worthless by factors outside your control, frustration can occur.
The bottom line is this: Understanding frustration and its triggers can reduce your organization's risk exposure. It's worth the effort.
The above includes an excerpt from Vernon Grose's book, Managing Risk.