How to Solve Problems at Work (with Examples)

A close-up of a businessman solving a Rubik's cube
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If you can find an office without troublemakers, lazy workers, selfish employees, management unwilling to listen to its staff and gossip kings and queens, then we will give you a two-bit gold cigar.

Let’s be honest: there’s always a fire to put out at every office, whether it is workplace harassment or team members at each other’s throats because Fred wants to use the red stapler that Samantha hogs.

The key thing, however, is to ensure you are actively trying to solve these problems with the appropriate strategies – it should be on your list of top must-have skills to possess. Otherwise, the longer you let it linger, the harder it will be to resolve the diverse array of issues impacting your productivity levels. You might think that being passive aggressive with your colleagues is the way to go, but this will eventually boil over and poison the workplace.

First, as an employee, identify what is wrong. Second, improve your problem-solving skills. Third, enjoy how peaceful and productive your workday has become without these headaches and challenges. These are just elements of your overall professional skills.

1. Take Action

Unfortunately, there will always be a handful of coworkers who have not ditched the high school mentality. Their mean girl's persona persists, leaving you dreading of coming to work, fearful of being the target of these bullies, whether it is gossip or bullying. This is a common issue for offices everywhere, and management does not take the matter seriously enough unless litigation commences.

These concerns can also be extended to how customers treat you. Let’s face it: many clients believe they are entitled to abuse the person on the other end.

The most effective way to combat this ubiquitous problem is to:

  • be honest with management and colleagues about how you feel;
  • listen to those who believe that you are behaving inappropriately; and
  • engage or cooperate with human resources should they open a probe into the grievances.

Example: Alice, an entry-level clerk, knocks on the door of Alec Berg, the senior vice president of Antarctic affairs. She informs Alec of the verbal abuse she has received from both supervisors and customers. Alec requests Alice to make a formal written complaint, which is the beginning of a new file. The concerns are fully investigated – colleagues are interviewed, warnings are issued, and everyday operations are monitored with a new focus. By the end, the person being reprimanded is punished in some way, and Alice can return to her duties without any further odious acts.

By adopting these problem-solving strategies, you are not sitting idly by twiddling your thumbs. Instead, you invoke those communication skills you have been working on for the last several months.

2. Identify the Situation

Studies have estimated that about one-third of workers are chronically late to work. The excuses for being late range from public transit delays to a malfunctioning alarm clock to traffic from all the construction surrounding a single pothole. While life happens, the constant tardiness is affecting the average business – remember, time is money.

Yes, your employer can post constant reminders about how management can understand the occasional lateness. However, if the tardiness is perpetual, then action must be taken, including termination. You need to act right away.

Example: An internal audit has found that you’re late on average 11 minutes once a week, which is equal to about 44 minutes a month, or approximately 9 hours a year – a full workday. There are four ways to handle this matter:

  • Install multiple alarm clocks in your home.
  • Go to bed at least an hour earlier than usual bedtime.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the office.
  • Do not make a pitstop at the local Starbucks or Tim Hortons.

3. Prepare for the Worst

Hope for the best, expect the worst. No matter what, you need to always ask: ‘What is the worst possible thing that could happen in this situation?’.

The way employees survive the storm is by preparing for the worst possible outcome in every circumstance. There are many strategies you can employ, but the most important tactic is knowing how to overcome it. A case of the common cold or a case of too much work, there are innumerable examples of offices needing to get ready for both the best of times and the worst of times, like Charles Dickens.

Example: You have a deadline fast approaching. You are already backed up from other deadlines that you need to meet. It is obvious that you need to prepare for one of the worst things to happen to you or your team from the very beginning of this project: not getting it done on time. Indeed, you will repeatedly tell yourself – don’t forget the constant reminders from your supervisors – that you will need to do your utmost best to satisfy the client’s needs. The fail-safe measure is to work into the night, come in on weekends or encourage management to hire a couple of temps or outsource tasks.

4. Pick the Best Solution to Challenges

Is the day ending in Y? Okay, that’s a sign that you’re going to have a barrage of challenges to overcome – some new and some old. It is imperative to persevere, but that’s a hard thing to do when you are either doing the work of multiple people, or you are short on time (see above!). Ultimately, when you have a major issue to resolve, you need to consider a myriad of solutions, and then outline the pros and cons of this solution. Think of it as a game of chess: you need to think several moves ahead.

Don’t forget you need to discover a fine line between realistic solutions and your ideal endgame.

Example: You have been employed at the same business for 23 years, enjoying the same routine in that timespan. The company is getting older and greyer, suggesting that perhaps your employer may not stand the test of time – or, at the very least, your lifetime. You have a couple of options:

  • Inquire about getting a promotion within the company.
  • Search for a new job before it is too late.
  • Present ideas to diversify clientele, introduce a digital marketing campaign or overhaul the business model – show some initiative!
  • Retire and travel to the Bahamas in the hopes of meeting Marisa Tomei or Chris Pratt.

You may need to compromise with what you want to get done compared to what you can get done.

5. Tap into Your Critical Thinking Skills

Stagnancy is the bane of a person’s career. You may be set in your ways, or your skills may be outdated that you may never enter the current year. It is hard for any professional to learn and accept that they are lagging behind others. Is now the time to initiate Project: Change? Sure, but how? Critical thinking!

Whether you have thought about methods of improving your career trajectory or already instituted some changes to your daily work life, you may or may not experience success. Unsuccessful? Okay, then the next question is: what else is the root cause of this problem? Whatever you do, never take the easy answer by not taking responsibility or passing the buck by blaming everyone but yourself.

You need to approach the disease, not the symptom, with a certain kind of methodology. And that methodology is critical thinking.

Example: You continue to rank last in sales of Fiffer Feffer Feff costumes, toys and mousepads. You’re the Willy Loman of the company. What is going wrong? It is time to take a gander at what you’re doing and brainstorm solutions to generate more sales of these costumes, toys and mousepads? Maybe you can even work with your colleagues – this is where teamwork becomes integral to the firm.

  • You might not be using the right gimmicks related to the sales strategy.
  • You may not have the right relationships with retailers, vendors and suppliers.
  • You have not taken the advice of the marketing team.
  • You are taking the wrong sales approach and failing to adapt to the situation.

By tapping into your creative thinking skills, you and your colleagues can learn why your personal Fiffer Feffer Feff sales plunged 32% over the last two quarters. Indeed, by coalescing communication with creativity, you can gather a wide array of solutions to your fledgeling career growth.

6. Measure Your Progress

Are your problem-solving techniques working?

It can be difficult to determine if your strategies have been effective for the last quarter, six months or a year. The only way to know if you are succeeding at tackling these setbacks is to establish the criteria in the first place.

Simply put: how will you measure success? Every firm will have its own methodology on both how to solve problems and know if they are taking the right steps.

Example: For the last two years, you have noticed your productivity slip. What’s worse, your poor production is causing you to be the recipient of the snake eye from management. You are trying your best to improve your productivity, but is it enough? You can measure it yourself, even without a supervisor hanging over your shoulder, by looking at:

  • the number of days you have missed;
  • the accumulative hours missed by coming in late and taking longer breaks;
  • the various distractions (MySpace, Solitaire and Minesweeper) that cause you to reduce production levels; and
  • the quality of production after participating in employee morale initiatives.

Without the right measurements, you won’t know if you are doing the right thing or if you need to take a different approach to rectify the issues.

Everyone has 99 problems – and problem-solving shouldn’t have to be one of them. A key attribute for entrepreneurs, managers and employees who want to climb the ranks is having impeccable problem-solving skills, reversing the troubling developments that are hurting your bottom line.

Whatever the difficulty you are experiencing, you must institute the best process possible and know how to solve daily problems, from the minuscule to the immense and the benign to the serious.

How do you solve problems at work? Join the conversation down below and let us know.