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In today's competitive environment wherein employees constantly struggle to meet deadlines, manage crisis at the workplace, cases of them cracking under pressure and stress are on a sharp rise. Deadlines, deliveries, favouritism at work, household chores, there is so much to handle. Individuals feel bogged down and sometimes need a shoulder to cry on (correspondent, 2009). Most people find ways of coping with their bad times and this usually involves talking to someone, often their marriage partner, a close friend or a sympathetic doctor or clergyman. But people who have problems at work should be able to find help at work, and especially from their manager. Hence, organisations, through employee counselling are trying to keep employee stress-related issues far.
Reddy (), defines Counselling as a set of techniques, skills and attitudes to help people manage their own problems using their own resources.
The term 'counselling' is best used as suggested by the British Association for Counselling (BAC), which is as follows:
Counselling occurs when a counsellor meets with a client in a private and confidential setting to explore a difficulty the client is having, distress he may be in, or perhaps his vague dissatisfaction with life and loss of a sense of direction or purpose. It is always at the request of the client and no one can properly be 'sent' for counselling
cited in (Green, 1997).
Counselling and Employee Performance
Counselling at the workplace is the way for the organisation to care about its employees. It helps the employee share and look at their problems from a different perspective and to deal with it in an effective way (Correspondent, 2009).
Workplace counselling can be defined as:
Any activity in the workplace where one individual uses a set of skills and techniques to help another individual to take responsibility for and to manage their own decision-making, whether it is work related or personal- Institute of Personnel Development (IDP now CIPD) cited in (Armstrong).
Counselling in performance management is what the, managers do to help their employees motivate themselves and manage their own performance (Armstrong,).
Today, the range of people seeking help regarding their work is much wider, and the range of issues is correspondingly greater. (Hood)
Surveys show that work-life imbalance is leading to a sharp rise in lifestyle
diseases and low morale among staff, which threatens a company's growth (Sharma, 2008).
If the organisation is to sustain its competitive advantage, it needs employees who are motivated and eager to learn and adapt as their roles change along with the organisation (Stone, 2007).
The counsellor may be so steeped in the culture of the organisation that she is unable to identify the unconscious processes for herself. This could also be true of the supervisor if he is employed within the same organisation rather than being external to it (Copeland, 1998).
Harrison (1972, 1993) views the culture describing each organisation as a mixture of four orientations towards power, role, achievement and support (Copeland, 1998). Recognising which one of these is preferred will help counsellors and supervisors to understand what an organisation sees as important (Walton, 1997) cited in (Copeland, 1998). For example, in a highly competitive organisation where an employee lacks assertion and is showing symptoms of stress, there will be little sympathy if he cannot cope with the pressure of work. Knowing this, the counsellor and supervisor can work out strategies to help the client either to cope or to leave for another job (Copeland, 1998).
Cooper and Cartwright tag stress as a growing epidemic which is spreading so fast and has Indeed has found as firm a place in our modern glossary as fast foods, junk bonds and software packages (Cartwright and Cooper, 1994). Stress is usually defined from a 'demand-perception-response' perspective (Barlett, 1998) (McVicar, 2003). The basic concept is that stress relates both to an individual's perception of the demands being made on them and to their perception of their capability to meet those demands. Working conditions, shift work, long hours, regular business travel, training for a new technology, work load are some of the reasons which are mainly responsible for work related stress. A mismatch will mean that an individual's stress threshold is exceeded, triggering a stress response (Clancy and McVicar, 2002) cited in (McVicar, 2003) The below diagram by Cooper-Cummings shows how 'success' to overcome stress can be achieved if a person manages to copes with the problem. However, if he fails to cope well, then stress would continue to haunt a person's mind, body and soul resulting in major health issues, or even depression.
Figure 1: The Cooper- Cummings Framework
(Cartwright and Cooper, 1997)
An increasing popular approach to the management of stress at work is the use of individual counselling or psychotherapy for employees who are experiencing high levels of strain (West and Reynolds, 1995).
Who should Counsel?
Experience shows that an employee's performance is not confined to work related factors alone. Counselling can be used as a behavioural supportive technique to provide relief for the employees from the stresses and strains of organizational life. Managerial counselling can help employees see personal as well as organization related problems more objectively, face them with less anxiety and tension, and thus able to come to terms with some new insights for the betterment of self (Greer, 1999).
The counsellor is a person who is often best placed to spot the individual with a problem, best placed perhaps to bring to bear a little pressure towards finding a solution; sometimes in the best position to do something about it or at the very least to guide people to the help they need (Reddy, ). Counselling is as much a part of organizational life as quality control and cashflow. Its purpose is to help people through periods and problems which affect their satisfaction and performance on the job (Reddy, ).
(Jackson, 2010) describes below the factors to be considered while counselling:
Lack of interruptions;
Relaxed and non-confrontative seating arrangement;
Being aware of own values, prejudices and preoccupation's;
Neutralising personal feelings;
'My time is available to you';
'I want to listen carefully to what you are saying and help you listen to it'.
Listening, Questioning, Silence;
Structuring - through Clarifying and Summarising;
Striking empathy - keeping to what the person is saying and how it is being said;
Concreteness - helping the person focus on the particular problem;
Confrontation - helping the person face up to what is happening;
Immediacy - Using how individual is responding to create awareness on behaviour.
Counselling may be offered internally by a professional counsellor or externally by a an expert supervisor. Many large companies provide their own in-house counselling provision, sometimes as part of occupational health; some refer out to individual counsellors or group practices; Many contract the services of external employee assistance programme (EAP) providers (Feltham,). However, in order to provide counselling sessions, the manager first needs to diagnose the employee's problems (eg is this drug dependent or do they have marital problems?) (Buon, 2005).
A managerial coach should be supportive and nurturing, ready to know-how to help employees succeed in their jobs and with recognition when they do (Stone, 2007). When employee's problems affect their performance or that of the work group, the manager should intervene; referral to a professional counselling may be appropriate (Copeland, 1998).
A supervisor who works externally for the organisation will be in a good position to help the counsellor to work. Outside a counselling context, a supervisor is someone who has a hierarchical and managerial authority over others. There is a structured power differential and often an appraisal function that accompanies the role. Workplace supervisors are often chosen by an organisation to supervise an individual or a counselling team within the organisation. Paying attention to the culture is vital if counsellors are to engage fully with the client material (Copeland, 1998).
The helper who adopts a counselling style, is more concerned with the client than with the problem and involves the client in solving the problem (De Board, 1983). The counsellor never offers advice and never criticises the client. He believes that the client knows what is best for himself and helps him to discover what this is. The counsellor listens rather than talks, and uses his questioning skills to help his client explore and analyse the problem in all its aspects (De Board, 1983).
The supervisor may not become directly involved, but just give support and help the counsellor to find the appropriate methods of counselling. In some instances, it will be appropriate to have a three-way meeting between counsellor, supervisor and manager. Whether the supervisor is internal or external to the organisation, however, there will need to be strict guidelines for the release of information so that confidentiality is maintained. This will mean that a clear contract needs to be drawn up to safeguard the interests of all parties concerned (Copeland, 1998).
However, external services also have a major drawback. Some employee assistance providers may not have a great deal of experience with organisations or their structures (Green, 1997).
Stress and its intervention must be understood as requiring attention to both individual and organizational facets. The stress management literature points to the importance of both individual and organizational assessment as part of the intervention strategy. To this extent, stress counselling must be tailored to the individual, draw on a number of different techniques, and addressed to issues of how an event is perceived, appraised and coped with.
Supervisors who have experience in working for many organisations will be in a good position to help the counsellor to identify the culture and so work with it rather than against it. The counsellor, who is employed by the same organisation, may be drawn into a parallel process by experiencing feelings of impatience with the client for not being assertive and standing up for himself in a highly competitive environment. She will also be working in the same culture and could be fearful for her job security, just as the client is. In situations such as these, it is important for the supervisor to be able to stand back, identify the parallel process, and work with it for the benefit of both client and counsellor (Copeland, 1998).
Approaches to Counselling:
An increasingly popular approach to the management of stress at work is the use of individual counselling or psychotherapy for employees who are experiencing high levels of strain. The practical issues involved in implementing such services have not been addressed adequately by researchers or those involved in developing work-based counselling services.
For example, it is questionable whether employees would make use of work-based counselling services, since they may have concerns about consequent stigmatization. Another practical question is whether those who are most stressed are likely to take up the offer of such interventions (West, M.A. and Reynolds, S., 1995).
Counselling being a sensitive and psychological process, the counsellor has to follow definite phases in order to counsel. He cannot be expected to play the part of amateur psychotherapists in addressing personality disorders or any other deep-seated behavioural problem (Armstrong, ).
Figure 1: Reddy ()
The counsellor, by the way, does not necessarily go through all three phases with the client. Often the first phase by itself is enough. Which is another good reason for starting at the beginning (Reddy, ).
How can management commitment be obtained?
REFER PGS 50 & 51 FROM ROBERT
Proactive or Reactive:
An appraisal scheme must be client-centred. That is, the primary task of appraisal must be to help the subordinate, and anything that hinders this should be modified or scrapped. If the main purpose in appraising a person's performance is to contribute to their motivation and development, appraisal must be linked with counselling (Robert, ).
What are the traits of a good counsellor?
An employee should be counselled when he or she has problems that affect job performance. Some gains of a troubled employee include (Pranati Raheja)
Sudden change in behaviour
Difficulty in absorbing training
The set of attitudes required for an efficient counsellor are: (Pranati Raheja)
Respect i.e. High esteem for human dignity, recognition of a person's freedom & rights and faith in human potential to grow
Non-judgemental approach towards the counselee.
Counselling and Confidentiality
In-house services are sometimes criticized for possibly jeopardizing employees' rights as they do not necessarily offer a private location for counselling, and for discussion of information regarding corporate issues which may fed back to the organisation (for example, sexual harassment in the workplace). Some counsellors argue that many employees who need professional help do not use in-house services because they are afraid that management will learn of their problems and hold these against them (Green, 1997).
Good appraisals don't only assess employees' performance; they also identify opportunities for improvement (Stone, 2007).
Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is a booming industry in India. Tremendous upsurge in the outsourcing industry aids in reducing costs and increasing service quality. BPOs have self-imposed high standards for the quality of their product and hence, the key aim of such service organisations is to serve attract and retain high quality employees (Heskett et al., 2008) cited in (Budhwar, ). However, this sector is extremely volatile and faces the problem of lack of job security and constant up gradation of skills.
'Wipro BPO Solutions' is a leading provider of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) that concentrates on functional services in specific industry domains such as Manufacturing, Retail, Financial Services, Telecom, Energy & Utilities and Healthcare. It is responsible for providing high quality service to satisfy customers and maintain good image for the company. Services are provided from delivery centres in the North America, Central and Eastern Europe, India, China and Latin America.Â
The fierce competitive business environment-where
chasing tough targets often results in employees
compromising their personal lives for work-is leading
to extremely high stress levels at the workplace (Sharma, 2008).
The main responsibility of Wipro BPO personnel is to give support and provide superior service through phones, e-mails, web-based text-chat services, customer interaction channels, backroom processing and knowledge services. Their routine work involves handling special telephone task like call transfers, taking messages, call backs, dealing with customer queries and providing them the best service. Most of the calls are received from the countries outside India which the employees are to speak in a specific accent. The organisation receives numerous calls throughout the day which are answered in a specific tone, accent and the employees have targets to achieve the maximum call volume, call duration and its wrap time. This mounts tremendous pressure on the employees. Another critical factor contributing to the stress of working for an Indian BPO is that of racial abuse from irate overseas customers. Even the frontline staff face a spectrum of rudeness from sexual harassment to fury at unsolicited sales calls to open racism (The Hindu, 2005b; Baliga, 2005) cited in (Budhwa et al., ).
Services from many parts of the world are outsourced by Wipro India. Hence, the organisation has variable work shifts based on day and week and the work content. ASIA, EMEA and WHEM are the different shifts in which employees work in Wipro which makes the BPO work 24 X 7 to match the working hours of each country. The employees working in the WHEM shift, are to work as per the US timings which are exactly the opposite of that in India. This disturbs their body clock as they work at night and sleep during the day. This initiates problems related to maintaining friendships, keeping in touch with relatives, accomplishing household duties and finding time for sound family relations. Employees are not even entitled for national/religious holidays, as the firms work with clients' calendar (Ramesh, 2004).
About 87 per cent of the workforce in Wipro is below the age of 30 years, consisting mostly of college graduates looking for high-growth opportunities, high salaries and a "great work environment" (Jha, 2005) cited in (Budhwar, ). Hence, they easily get carried away by complacency and rudeness that is representative of their age group. The most significant stressors are work overload, tight work schedules, monotonous nature of work, lack of career opportunities, role ambiguity, role conflict and working with diverse personalities. i.e. The human computer interaction commonly known as the techno-stress also has an effect on work exhaustion (Rajeswary and Anantharaman, 2005) cited in (Subramanian and Vinothkumar, 2009). With average working hours extended to 50 hours per week, the overall working conditions are very stressful.
Psychologists note that many young individuals employed in BPOs are vulnerable to lifestyle diseases, burn-out stress syndrome (BOSS), symptoms of which include chronic fatigue, insomnia and alteration of the body's 24-hour biological rhythm (George, 2005). Further, both disturbed sleep and prolonged working hours may lead to gastric ulcer, high blood pressure, diabetes or clinical depression (Wadhwa, 2004). Other ailments ranging from hypertension, asthma to spondylitis, are also reported as an outcome of working in call centres (Jayaswal, 2005).
And hence to compensate this, the pay structure in Wipro is relatively higher comparing to that in other companies.
In Wipro, main object of HR division is to detach the workplace feeling from the workers and to provide situations to air out workers' grievances with least damage to the firm by organising get together/parties, providing individual counselling, designing 'recreation activities' and even the designing of the firm (Ramesh, 2004). Special 'break-out zones' are designed on each floors which are equipped with television sets, carom boards, newspapers, coffee machines, etc. for employees to relax. Apart from this, classes to meditation and yoga, various stress management and anger management seminars and workshops are conducted to help employees increase the quality of work to manage high-stress usually faced once on the floor.
"Counselling helps the employee share and look at their problems from a different perspective and to deal with it in an effective way. Counselling at the workplace is a way for the organisation to care about its employees. (A correspondent). Good pay and incentives and working conditions. Solving job related issues, well-being, job enrichment, performance appraisals and career development. Ever month, the managers hold one-on-one meetings and team huddles to get the feedback from each employee and the team and counsel them in case of issues. Apart from that, individuals have the right to skip a level or two and directly approach their AVPs in case of any problems and issues.
A series of HRD interventions addressing to stress alleviation activities are organized at periodical intervals, particularly providing a regular counselling sessions to those who are weak in internal strength on work related or personal related issues which may help remarkably to cope stressors at work (Subramanian and Vinothkumar, 2009).
"We at HDFC Standard life have professional counselling sessions, which we term as mentoring sessions. These sessions are done to address the performance and disciplinary roadblocks which our employees face at the workplace. These sessions are open discussions where the organisation tries to gauge the difficulty or inadequacies an employee faces. The discussion helps people come out with their personal and professional worries," says Sharad Gangal, general manager - HR,Â HDFC Standard Life (A correspondemmt, 2009).
Adequate role clarification and role adjustment process can be resorted to eliminate role ambiguity which is one of the major perceived occupational stressors.
Opportunities for advancement and career development are crucial, since they form an integral part of the HRM practices that aim to foster organisational commitment among employees (Meyer and Smith, 2000) and help reduce turnover. Fun in the workplace. Given the high stress environment of call centres, and the monotonous nature of work, call centre managers should be encouraged to offer stress relieving interventions such as frequent parties, casual dress day, beauty parades, table tennis facilities, etc. Indeed, it is important to integrate fun and games at work, as this has been shown to be an effective attraction tool (Rajawat, 2005).
Sandyp Bhattacharya, VP-HR, Comviva Technologies says "We have 'Heart to Heart' sessions where each employee and their direct manager get together to have a chat on how things are going - and to discuss things such as employee development or employee concerns. Besides these, employees can request for skip level meetings with their manager's manager or approach HR for any of their concerns. Proactively, we also organise stress management sessions and run a series of programs in collaboration with the Art of Living foundation. We actively promote hobby/activity clubs run by our employees in areas like Adventure, Photography, Dancing, among others," (Srivastava, 2009).
It was also noticed that workers do develop poor eating habits, overeating, smoking, excessive drinking of coffee and so on to cope up with the psychological and physical stress. (Ramesh, 2004).
It is disingenuous to offer counselling with one hand, while placing employees under stress and insecurity with the other (pg 248) (Fetham, 1997).
India being a 'High Power Distance' country (PDI 77), individuals hesitate to share issues and give direct feedback to their managers and superiors. Wipro provides online intranet discussion forums where employees can share their problems with the online counsellors, without disclosing their identities. Such forums are also used to circulate jokes and 'productivity improvement' tips to employees (Ramesh, 2004).
In IndiGo, they have recently started an employee assistance programme, a confidential counselling service which equips people to meet life's challenges in a more mature and balanced manner. Counselling is geared towards addressing issues related to their personal lives and need not necessarily be related to work. Employees feel more confident sharing issues with counsellors and knowing that it stays confidential. (A correspondent, 2009).
Content of EAP's : on-site fitness facilities, relaxation classes, counselling....
Counselling is central to the management and development of people. Managers frequently engage in some activity during their normal life that could be termed as counselling to improve the motivation of individuals which eventually increases their performance (Armstrong, ).
Several leading companies, particularly multinational firms with policies in
place globally, are making an effort to help employees attain a balance
between work and their personal lives (Sharma, 2008).
Counselling results in growth and development. Counselling helps and encourages people to think for themselves. Through being involved in the problem-solving process, the client learns more about himself, develops his own resources and abilities, and becomes better equipped to manage future problems (De Board, 1983). Employees become more productive and motivated when they feel that have a life beyond work.