5 common workplace crises and how to deal with them

Dealing with workplace crises can lead to stress and anxiety, says a University of Toronto study. Getty Images

If you’re dealing with a workplace crisis, like a tough boss like Kevin Spacey from Horrible Bosses for example, there are other ways to handle such stressful situations than the way the film’s three protagonists chose to do so.

Because let’s face it: dealing with a crisis at work is never fun, let alone funny.

According to human resources consulting company Morneau Shepell, 46 per cent of employees admit to taking time off work or noticing colleagues doing the same to manage their mental health following workplace changes (like a change in job roles).

READ MORE: How to make the most of a job you hate

Dealing with such crises can often lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and can also impact job performance and the quality of relationships among employees, a 2015 study by the University of Toronto found.

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That stress can also spill over and affect your health, especially if it’s persistent and becomes chronic. That type of long-term stress can put anyone at high risk of depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and can impair your memory and concentration, the Mayo Clinic says.

So to help lessen the stress, Marsha Forde, director of human resources at Workopolis, and Sheryl Boswell, director of marking at, give tips on how employees can navigate through five of some of the most common workplace crises scenarios.

Overloaded, overworked and close to burnout

First, determine if you really are being overloaded with work, Forde says, and have a clear understanding of what your duties are. If you’re not sure, a meeting with your manager will help clear things up.

Should it be determined that you are being overloaded and/or overworked and you feel like you’re drowning, don’t try to deal with it on your own, says Boswell.

“Make sure that your manager or superior is aware o your workload and determine if it is possible to share the workload with another employee that may be less utilized,” she says. “If it’s just a highly busy period and all employees are working at maximum capacity, one of the best ways to defeat burnout is to focus on the enjoyable parts of your job.”

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Boswell suggests becoming more social and finding opportunities to laugh – both effective stress-relievers she says.

“Talk to people,” says Boswell. “Find activities to do with co-workers, friends and family members. Feeling connected to others is a great way to reduce stress and burnout.”

You’re at fault – and both you and your boss know it

Oops! You accidentally sent a scathing e-mail to your boss that was meant for a co-worker. Now what?

“It may seem that everything is daunting and you might feel that you’re stuck in a rut,” says Boswell. “However, this likely isn’t the first time you’ve been faced with a challenge, and remember you can get through it. It’s helpful to take a deep breath and remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day.”

In order to fix it, you must own up to it, both Boswell and Forde say.

“You can’t be perfect all the time,” Forde says. “Acknowledge the problem. If you try to hide the problem it could make matters worse and breakdown a bit of the trust.”

“Honesty is always the best policy,” Boswell says. “If you have made an error and it isn’t something that you can easily fix on your own, talk with your boss. Admitting your mistakes is a far more honourable and courageous act than trying to cover it up. And humility can go a long way.”

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Not getting along with others

With so many different personality types out there, not everyone in a company is going to get along.

This is quite common in the workplace, Boswell and Forde say, but there are steps employees can take to better the situation.

“If you truly feel like you are not liked in the workplace it can weigh heavily on you and can, in the long term, impact both your professional and personal life,” Boswell says. “Feeling like an outcast can trigger extreme reactions and can lead to a host of other behavioural issues.”

First, she says, evaluate if the issue with them or you. Rather than putting the blame on others, look inward first and determine why people may be treating you in a way that you don’t like.

READ MORE: The 7 professional traits that will help you get a promotion at work

“It’s never too late to mend any broken fences,” says Boswell. “While it may take time and effort, you will be able to improve how your peers view you.”

If you’re having a problem with a particular colleague, offer to take them out for coffee to talk things over, Forde says.

“Try to find that common ground with that person because the reality is you have to work with them,” says Forde. “It’s not the easiest thing to do but having that opportunity to address that tension between the two of you can help steer things in the right direction and deal with it head on.”

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If you’re not sure how to approach the situation, again, your manager can help you determine the best possible plan of action, Forde says.

Sexual harassment and/or bullying

Employees who are sexually harassed report having lower levels of job satisfaction, organizational commitment and job performance, a 2008 study in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly found.

Should an employee ever feel they’re being sexually harassed or bullied they should go straight to management, Forde says.

And considering this is a very serious issue, Forde says to not hesitate to go to your manager or HR department right away.

“Almost all jurisdictions in Canada have legislation regarding workplace violence and/or harassment, but few have laws specific to bullying,” Boswell points out. “Overall, it is the duty of employers to protect their employees from risks at work, including both mental and physical harm.”

By approaching your HR representative or manager, they’ll be able to help you navigate the situation, Boswell says.

Layoffs and ‘survivor’s guilt’

“This one can be difficult because people are impacted differently and [it] depends on maybe who was let go and could impact how it affects your work,” Forde says. “This might change your role and you might be given more work. So if this is an issue, this ties back into going to your manager to discuss your duties.”
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Sometimes after companies experience mass layoffs, those who were spared from the chopping block are left with a type of “survivor’s guilt” – also known as “layoff survivor sickness.”

“After surviving a round of layoffs, employees left behind can often feel a blend of anger, survivor guilt, fear and anxiety that can cause sleepless nights, sinking morale and plummeting productivity,” Boswell says.

Boswell suggests employees refrain from panicking. If it helps you feel better, develop a plan should you be laid off in the future. This will help you feel more confident about what you will do if certain scenarios occur.

Allow yourself to grieve the loss, she says. It will help you to move forward.

Next, be honest about your workload. Usually, remaining employees are given more work to make up for the people who have left so be honest with your employer and let them know your concerns.

Lastly, maintain perspective. If you feel overwhelmed by your feelings and you’re unable to cope, maybe finding another job would be the better solution for you, Boswell says.


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