The Sky Is Falling – Or Is It?
By Kathy Miller on October 2nd, 2013
Have you noticed lately that there’s not much positive humor present within your team, and that cynicism is on the up-tick? Do your employees seem to be struggling to concentrate? Do they appear to have lost their ability to engage in productive problem solving? These can be symptoms of certain common phenomena in the workplace arena: fear and anxiety.
Anxiety, when it spirals out of control, can be debilitating to the individual and devastating to your team. It can drag down morale, prevent people from doing their best work, and ruin productivity. So if you spot it, address it!
Workplace anxiety can be spotted most often when the company is going through hard times or major change. However, it can also pop up in much less extreme environments. For example, people can experience fear and anxiety when they believe their credibility is being questioned or their leaders are holding back critical information. Anything that negatively impacts their self-esteem or rattles their sense of security can trigger anxiety and fear.
If you see signs that these symptoms are crippling your team, take action. Here are some tips for addressing the situation:
- Take a hard look at your own behavior and eliminate anything that may be adding to your employees’ anxiety levels. Ask yourself: Am I doing anything that might be creating a fearful, stressful culture? For example, do you tend to hold onto information that might be perceived as bad news? And as your employees observe your behavior, could it appear to them that you are looking out for your own interests at the expense of theirs? Do you consistently remember to recognize your employees’ good work and achievements?
- Help your employees regain a sense of control over their work and their futures. Of course no one employee – – not even you – is ever in complete control. We are all going to feel somewhat out of control from time to time because change happens so fast and so relentlessly in most of our companies. But no situation has to get the better of any of us. We can alleviate some of our team’s anxiety by helping our employees focus on what they can control. For example, they can manage the amount of effort they put into their jobs and their careers. Disengaging due to fear is counter-productive. Those who continue to perform and to grow have greater control over their outcomes than those who pull back.
- Assist them in taking a realistic look at the future. When people jump to worst-case scenarios, their anxiety level is likely to spiral until it becomes debilitating. Here is an example of exactly how that can occur: One of my coaching clients is extremely anxious about making any mistakes. Therefore to alleviate his anxiety he never, ever, takes any risks. Instead, he seeks to maintain the status quo and “fly under the company radar.” This is not the way to thrive at work! Since we all learn and grow from making mistakes, we must all be willing to take some risks that could conceivably spawn mistakes. – – I encouraged my client to describe some concrete situations where his anxiety kept him from taking a risk. As he relayed several examples to me, it became clear that he jumps to the conclusion that a mistake, no matter how minor, may lead to a major loss of credibility and possibly to job loss. By looking at the situation more realistically, he was able to generate alternative scenarios that were a great deal more likely outcomes. As he planned how he might handle each of the other scenarios, he gained a greater sense of control and his anxiety decreased. So help your employees think clearly – – realistically – – and then consider a range of options.
It is very important, however, to recognize your own limitations. You may not be able to handle every anxiety and fear that crops up among your employees, since in all likelihood you are not a therapist. Deep-seated anxieties can become panic attacks that stem from conditions such as panic disorders, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorders), or obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. You must be able to recognize when an employee needs to work with a professional coach and/or therapist.
But when you are working with the more “garden variety ” type of anxieties and fears, you can assist your employees by helping them regain a sense of control over their futures. Remind yourself and your employees that, in general, the sky never falls!
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