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The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: This series of articles supports the award.

Your manager tells you the report you’ve been working on for the past week is not on point. You need to fix it and have it ready by end of day Monday. It’s 10:15 a.m. on Friday. You’re faced with a problem and are unclear how to solve it. Your stress level rises and you begin to wonder what may happen to your career if you don’t figure out how to get this report right and on time.

This micro skill introduces some ideas that can assist in problem solving in the workplace. One effective way to reduce work-related stress is to mature your problem-solving skills. They can help keep you from slipping into emotions that trigger fear and promote stress.

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One of the best books I’ve read on problem solving and decision making is the Rational Manager, written by Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe. This book made me aware that problem solving and decision making, when done separately, increase one’s ability to solve problems. It also showed me that solving problems and making decisions at the same time can increase our risk for making ineffective, spontaneous decisions.


When faced with a problem, we always have control over how we behave. It may not feel this way, but ultimately, we all own our own behaviour. When our emotions drive our decisions, we’re more likely to regret what we say and do. There’s no way to escape the fact that we’ll be faced with challenges and problems in our workplace.

We can benefit and improve our ability to cope with challenging workplace problems when we make a commitment to mature our problem-solving skills. As with any skill, becoming good at problem solving requires practice. It’s helpful to remember why they call it problem solving, because when first faced with a challenge, we may not see a solution. By slowing down, thinking and not allowing emotions to take over, we put ourselves in a position where we can start to think out options that are within our control.


One way to develop problem-solving skills is to adopt a structured process that helps us take deliberate actions, as well as taming emotions that could be distracting and lead to poor decision making.

The following is an example of a problem-solving model, one of many options that include the Mayo Clinic problem-solving technique. This model demonstrates small, decisive steps that can help you solve work-related problems. Obviously, you could use this model for dealing with personal problems as well.

  1. Assessment – Begin by answering two questions so that you can begin solving your problem objectively: What exactly is the issue? Why is this my problem?
  2. Emotional discharge – Sometimes, when hit with a difference between what we want and what we have, we’ll have a shot of adrenalin and powerful emotions may arise. If you feel emotions are running hot, take a moment and acknowledge them. Answer the following questions: What is the most frustrating part for me? What else do I find frustrating? Taking a few minutes to allow yourself to process your emotions can help release some emotions so you can start to focus on what you really want: solving the problem you’re facing.
  3. Prepare cognitively – Not all problems are equal and not all require an immediate response. It’s helpful to be objective and clear on possible consequences, such as what’s at risk for your organization, your team and yourself, as well as the amount of time you have to solve the problem. Our emotions can spin up an issue to feel like a situation is much bigger than it is. This is why it’s helpful to slow things down and to be objective with respect to what the real risk is and the time you really have, so that you don’t make hasty decisions.
  4. Explore options – What are your options? This is not about decision making; it’s about analyzing options that could assist in solving your problem. By stepping back and thinking about the different options, asking for advice and doing a bit of research, you encourage your creativity to flourish. The amount of time you have will influence how long you can stay in this step.
  5. Pick the best available option – Decide and determine what you will do next to address the problem. Avoiding a decision is a decision.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2019 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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