The main problem in offices is unhappiness. People tend to be unhappy at work quite a lot of the time – in my experience. This stems from many sources. People are unhappy if they’re promoted or not promoted. They are upset if they’re bullied, ignored or worked too hard.

They’re unhappy if they are managers with many problems and too much responsibility; or a member of staff with a poor manager who won’t allow them any responsibility. But to boil it all down, people get upset because of three reasons: loss, blocked goals and broken agreements.

Coping with loss

This can be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, a way of working, a performance management system, a place of work, a computer, just about anything. It involves enforced and immediate change. As a manager, the most useful tool you can have at your disposal at this time is a thorough knowledge of ‘the coping cycle’ model, empathy and patience.

The coping cycle model looks at the stages people go through after a loss. The first stage is denial. This is often difficult for the outsider to comprehend. The person can sometimes go into complete denial about the loss. We frequently hear of people who have lost their jobs but continue to go to work. There are cases of people having lost their loved ones still laying the table for two or even talking to them.

"The number one tip I can offer is: “When in doubt – tell the truth. When not in doubt – tell the truth’"

This is natural and the person has to work through this to reach the stage where they can accept the loss. After this comes the discarding. In some of the more day-to-day losses – such as the loss of an old process or a tried and tested way of working – this discarding is difficult.

People who have to change systems often try to hold on to the old system for dear life. For instance, every new performance management system I have introduced has been met with anger. This is a system to replace the old system that was hated and detested a few weeks ago but now people are defending it and denying that they need to change. So, when discarding a system, ensure it is actually gone.

People will find it very difficult to move on when there’s a ‘way out’. If there’s a parallel, backup system that is maintained people will never adapt to the new system.

This adaptation is the next stage, when people are finally accepting the new way of working and are starting to move on. Eventually it will be so natural to people that they will have internalised the process and can hardly remember a time before the loss.

Blocked goals

This arises when someone is frustrated and feels they shouldn’t be. They have a goal but they can’t reach it. This could be promotion, a parking space or a reward. Often the problem here is that the goal the member of staff has in his head may never have been agreed on by the manager or anyone else.

For instance, in one office I heard if you kept your head down and did five years in IT you would get promoted. This seemed to have been handed down from Moses. However, in the past decade or so things had changed and other people were getting promoted – people who hadn’t done their time. This caused upset and conflict.

As a manager you need to talk about and accept – or not – people’s personal goals. You needn’t have the same goal yourself. But you and the people working with you need to have non-conflicting, complementary goals. For example, Wayne Rooney may have an ambition to score 40 goals in a season for Manchester United. Alex Ferguson’s goal may be to win the League. These goals probably aren’t conflicting. However, conflict could arise if Rooney decides to try and achieve his target at the expense of the team. Make your goals as explicit as possible.

Broken agreements

Broken agreements can cause any number of upsets. If there is a broken agreement the best way of resolving it is with an effective apology. The effective apology is a two-part process that really works: a sincere acknowledgment of fault on your part; and an offer of help to redress the upset. If you think one of your staff is upset with something you’ve done and you don’t know why – you should talk to them.

There may be occasions where these rules are broken, not noticed or acknowledged. The trick is to keep talking and listening. The number one tip I can offer is: “When in doubt – tell the truth. When not in doubt – tell the truth.”