Behave yourself! How to avoid 'toxic triggers' in the office

As employees return to the workplace, it's important to remember how to act appropriately

Behave yourself! How to avoid 'toxic triggers' in the office

It’s easy to forget the dynamics of the office place when you have been sitting around in tracksuits pants and t-shirts for the past two years. Occasionally, you would drag out the smart blouse or collared shirt, check the mirror quickly before logging onto another Zoom call, but as time progressed and days turned into weeks, then months and then years, standards slipped.

But that’s not all. Learning to behave in a workplace environment is also a vital requirement of going back to the office. You can’t swan around and leave items everywhere or dress like you have just woken up, nor can you let your emotions get the better of you.

It is easy to get off a Zoom call and vent your frustration by going for a walk/run, hitting the gym or talking to your partner/flatmate, but those options don’t exist once you re-commence back in your office for eight hours a day. You have to control feelings, political views, personal beliefs and even the way you look at people. It is not an easy environment to navigate, especially when someone says something that can trigger a personal deep emotional scare or experience.

“Triggers are stimulus that create a connection back to a painful event and leads to an adverse emotional reaction,” Rowena Millward, co-founder and principal at MacMORGAN Next Practice Growth, said. “Triggers reside in our subconscious as they are associated with fear, and when something activates that association, it creates an automatic emotional response, such as anxiety, panic or anger.”

Basic techniques

Every person in a stressful situation can undertake some basic techniques to control their emotions – or at least minimise them – and give themselves a chance to think rationally.

First, is to take some deep breaths and this should be followed by counting to ten slowly while you rationalise what you are going to say. If that doesn’t work, leave the room and visualise a happy scene. If need be, leave the office and go for a walk.

“Triggers are how our brain tries to keep us safe,” Millward said. “So don’t beat yourself up about it.  Think of it as part of learning.  On the positive, when we overcome fears and triggers we grow and expand.  Triggers may not be positive, but they do help us learn more about ourselves and how we can grow, even if its ‘uncomfortable growth’.

“The better you are at understanding your triggers, the better you will be at managing them.”

The role of human resources

Human resources will be integral to any workplace situation where emotional outbursts are concerned. Any state of affairs where arguments are happening in a workplace requires a neutral authoritative party to get involved and calm the circumstances down.

“Human resources can help by supporting education on triggers through guiding people on how to manage them,” Millward added.

“Awareness is the first step.  Helping people become aware of their triggers in the workplace  will help them put actions in place to manage them because sometimes behaviour of individuals causes triggers in others.  For example, if an employer raises their voice and it is perceived as aggressive, this can trigger off an individual if it brings back painful memories from their past.  The manager will need to learn to behave differently when wanting to make their point.

“It is important to inform people that everyone has triggers and by helping normalise it, which gives employees permission to develop plans to reduce them, particularly if it is impacting their job performance and well-being.”

Being calm and collective in a workplace should never be underestimated. Talking to fellow co-workers as equals will go a long way to avoiding setting off any alarm bells.

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