How to deal with workplace problems (Anxiety at Work Book Summary)

What’s it about?

Anxiety at Work (2021) looks at how the modern workplace adds to our rising anxiety levels. It explains how companies and team leaders may aid employees with their anxieties and concerns.

About the author

Adrian Gostick is an organizational psychologist and author from the United Kingdom. He’s also the creator of The Culture Works, a Utah-based consulting organization.

Chester Elton is a management strategist and author from Canada. He focuses on increasing staff motivation. They’re also the authors of several other books, including The Carrot Principle, All In, and Leading with Gratitude, which have all been New York Times bestsellers.

Events outside the control of younger workers make them feel besieged:

How do you deal with ambiguity? When you don’t know what the future holds, you’re undoubtedly anxious like many of us. Because the modern workplace is full of the unknown, this has become a significant issue for today’s workers. The goal is for leaders to do everything they can to reduce uncertainty when they can – and to assist their staff where they can’t.

So, what’s the source of this ambiguity? It all boils down to a lack of job stability. Nearly two-thirds of American workers are apprehensive about their jobs’ prospects. Of course, the COVID-19 outbreak has thrown many professions into disarray, but these anxieties have origins in earlier events as well. The financial crisis of 2008 and the fear of robots and automation taking over human jobs are still affecting the younger generation.

Unfortunately, many millennial workers feel exploited as well. They’ve paid for their education and credentials, often incurring student debt in the process. Even after all of this, their pay is frequently precarious, freelance, or contract-based. Why? Because this is the most advantageous labor arrangement for the capitalists. As a result, millennials believe they can be replaced at any time.

This unsettling fact causes unpredictably high levels of worry. Millennials have even been dubbed “Generation Paranoia” by some social critics. Younger workers are always looking over their shoulders at their competitors, and they feel compelled to work harder and longer than they have in the past. This is why employees feel obligated to be “always-on” and “always available.”

How can leaders assist their staff in reducing worry and the uncertainty that causes it? In many circumstances, they have little control over the delay. Disruption is happening at rapid speed across almost every business, which is both thrilling and challenging. As a result, change and uncertainty are unavoidable.

On the other hand, leaders aren’t helpless; they can still guide their teams through this period of uncertainty. When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, optometrist firm FYidoctors had to close nearly all of its offices. This sent the company’s entire personnel into a state of panic and confusion. On the other hand, the senior leadership team was adamant about being open about what was going on. The leadership team informed their workforce about any new developments or difficulties through daily briefing sessions over Zoom and what they planned to do about them. The company’s tone gradually evolved from panic and confusion to mutual understanding, and everyone felt much less anxious.

A solid and productive team requires some tension:

How confident are you in your ability to disagree with someone? Perhaps you’re not afraid to stand up to a friend or a loved one, but you’re wary about doing so at work. The possibility of getting into a fight with your coworkers or your boss may make you nervous. However, there is a significant difference between healthy debate and toxic office animosity.

One of the most common complaints among managers is that their employees are conflict-averse. They avoid uncomfortable conversations and grow upset when confronted with negative feedback. This is, unsurprisingly, a source of frustration for managers.

It is usual for members of the highest-performing teams to disagree and debate. This conflict encourages more excellent problem-solving and can even motivate employees to do a better job.

Why? People are more engaged and secure when they know their opinions are being heard, and they have a better sense of ownership over work projects when they know their voices are being heard. After all, if you feel like you had a say in something, you’re more inclined to own and care about it.

So, how can leaders foster productive dialogue among their teams? The first stage is to promote debate in meetings.

It’s pretty uncommon for specific team members to keep their opinions to themselves. This invariably means that just a few more conflict-averse individuals get heard. Taking a few minutes at the end of each meeting to ask each participant personally what their ideas are is one method to get around this problem. This pushes people to step beyond their comfort zones and express themselves honestly. Of course, this only works if team members feel comfortable voicing their ideas mentally.

Managers should emphasize the necessity of everyone offering their honest views to give individuals this sense of security. Although it may appear like sugarcoating one’s thoughts is the most excellent solution, it is detrimental to the organization. Individuals and groups both perform better when they have the proper knowledge to make judgments on. When someone withholds their true feelings, they are essentially hiding the knowledge that could assist others in making better decisions.

There are, of course, excellent and poor methods to discuss. Managers may improve the quality of debate by pushing staff to back up their claims with evidence if they disagree.

Leaders must have courageous talks about systemic bias and discrimination:

Workplace anxiety is not the same for everyone, and some of us are worried simply because of who we are. At this point, we’re discussing the psychological distress that marginalized groups may experience at work. Ethnic minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and those with disabilities are just a few examples of these groups.

Some executives continue to deny that workplace bias exists. They believe that expressing their disagreement is merely a matter of political correctness. However, the evidence is clear: some people have been mistreated in the past and have suffered as a result.

Change has been long overdue. According to studies, Black individuals in the United States are 20% more likely to experience significant mental health problems than any other group. Despite this, Black folks are less likely than the typical American to receive assistance and treatment. Experts feel that racism and injustices they confront in their daily contexts, including the job, are part of the reason why Mental health problems disproportionately afflict black people. 

So, how can leaders join the battle against workplace discrimination and bias as allies?

First and foremost, all complaints should be followed up on promptly, even if they appear to be insignificant. Second, leaders should cultivate an environment in which everyone feels free to be themselves. Naturally, this is easier said than done, and many people do not feel able to bring their entire selves to work. On the other hand, leaders can contribute to a more authentic workplace by sharing more about themselves and demonstrating authenticity so that others feel empowered to do so.

Finally, many executives may feel compelled to act like Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, did during a business town hall meeting in 2019. When Starbucks was accused of racial discrimination, Schultz said that he “didn’t see color.” It’s tempting to try to establish one’s unprejudiced attitude in this way, but it’s a horrible notion. After all, just because you can’t “see” someone’s skin color doesn’t make it any less accurate, and it doesn’t make the discrimination they may suffer any less genuine.

Effective teams have a strong sense of belonging among their members:

Have you ever had the gut-wrenching sensation of being left out? Others may have attended a party, but your invitation never arrived. These emotions of exclusion are frequently connected with the school, but you can also feel left out as an adult, even at work.

Evidence reveals that when employees feel like they’re part of a team, they’re more productive at work. When employees feel excluded by their coworkers, it is an issue for the individual and the firm.

According to Cornell University research, fire stations where firefighters have their lunch together save more lives than stations where firefighters dine alone. When researchers questioned the firefighters who ate alone why they did so, they appeared visibly uncomfortable. Why? Because they were aware that something was fundamentally wrong with the way their team was functioning.

Many of us, unfortunately, have had the misfortune of being left behind at work. According to research conducted by the University of British Columbia, 71% of professionals have been alienated in some way by their colleagues. This is a severe problem for mental health because exclusion causes anxiety and lowers productivity.

So, how can managers make sure that everyone on their team feels like they belong? The truth is that this can be difficult. After all, the exclusion usually doesn’t happen; coworkers don’t answer phone calls or invite people to lunch. It’s considerably more difficult to detect something that isn’t happening than to see something that is. Regular one-on-one catch-up sessions to ask team members how they’re getting along with the rest of the team is one of the most excellent strategies to avoid this problem.

It might be as simple as following the ten-ten routine. This morning and afternoon ritual occurs when leaders first arrive at work and the final thing they do before leaving. Walking around their team’s office, saying hi to everyone, and asking how they’re doing is part of the ten-ten. This lets everyone feel like they’re a team member, satisfying our natural desire to feel like we’re a valuable part of something bigger. Implementing a buddy system is another option for leaders to promote inclusiveness. Senior staff employees mentor and mingle with rookie staff members in this area.

Burnout and lost productivity are the results of our overwork cult: 

Your job security may be dubious, but there is one thing most of us can count on in the modern workplace: too much work. Bosses are increasing their demands on their staff and expecting them to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. Workers, on the other hand, are being pushed to the limit by all of these demands.

According to a 2019 survey, 91 percent of American employees said they were burned out at some time in the preceding year. You’re either physically or emotionally exhausted when you’re burned out. You may become tired of your job and the people you work with, impatient, or even resentful of yourself for putting up with other people’s excessive demands.

Burnout is not only bad for the individual, but it’s also bad for the company. Burned-out employees not only take 60 percent more sick days per year than the average employee, but they’re also more than twice as likely to leave their employer for another.

With this in mind, many businesses are beginning to recognize the dangers of employee burnout. Regrettably, they’re going about it incorrectly. How? By concentrating on the symptoms rather than the underlying source of the problem.

Many companies offer employee well-being programs like relaxation classes, healthy eating initiatives, and time-management advice. Other methods include resilience training in the hopes of making workers more resistant to burnout. However, these measures ignore the fundamental issue: many of today’s workers have too much on their plates. There’s no way to correct that with yoga. In terms of resilience, the healthcare industry has one of the highest burnout rates. Healthcare workers are highly resilient and effective under pressure, as the COVID-19 epidemic has demonstrated. However, they are still burnt out, so resilience training is unlikely to make a significant difference.

So, what can businesses do to prevent employee burnout?

They can begin by decreasing the workload of their personnel. Many leaders believe it is impossible, but it is achievable. For example, healthcare personnel is overburdened by bureaucracy. They spend the necessary time filling out documents and checking boxes every time they encounter a patient. Many healthcare organizations have discovered that just lowering their employees’ digital burden or reassigning form-filling to team members who enjoy such activities makes them feel less nervous and overwhelmed.

Millennial workers are concerned that they may miss out on better job prospects:

Have you ever suffered from FOMO (fear of missing out)? Maybe you’ve been scrolling through social media, concerned that your pals all seem to be having more fun and living better lives than you? If that’s the case, you’re not alone. Millions of young Americans share this sentiment, and as a result, they are anxious.

We don’t simply feel like we’ll be missing out on fun and parties. It’s also the big things for younger generations, like acquiring a decent job, rising in a profession, or even getting a mortgage. What’s causing all of this FOMO? It all boils down to a lack of job stability.

Many workers stuck in freelance or contract-based work feel considerably more disposable than their parent’s generation did. As a result, these younger generations frequently make a preemptive switch to another firm. They jump from job to job at dizzying speed, fearful of missing out on better possibilities elsewhere. For example, 40% of baby boomers say they’ve worked for 20 years or longer for the same employer. More than three-quarters of Gen Zers say they only intend to stay with their current company for two years before leaving.

What is it that young workers are so eager to discover? Eighty-seven percent of younger workers say they’re seeking opportunities for learning and development that will help them advance their careers. Unfortunately, they don’t always discover it. According to research conducted by global insights firm CEB, only one out of every ten organizations has a learning and development culture.

Employers, on the other hand, can take advantage of the gap between employee expectations and reality.

 Organizations can lower turnover rates and soothe the worry of younger workers about career advancement by introducing development initiatives for their staff. Traditional training programs, which are available to all employees, could be included. It could also imply more innovative approaches, such as providing a fast track to promotion. For example, Ladders, a US-based employment business, offers its junior employees a promotion every four months, including a pay grade and job title change. Staff must meet particular learning objectives to get these mini-promotions. This program not only increases employee engagement but also improves the company’s profitability. This isn’t unexpected when you consider that organizations that encourage employee growth and development are roughly a third more likely to be industry leaders.

Young people are increasingly exhibiting perfectionist traits:

Do you have any characteristics of a perfectionist? Do you have unreasonable expectations of yourself or others? Are you harsh on yourself, or do you have an all-or-nothing mentality? If you identify any of these traits in yourself, you may be causing yourself undue stress at work.

While some occupations, such as aircraft piloting or medical technicians, necessitate exceptional precision and attention to detail, perfectionism isn’t just about being precise or careful in your work. In reality, perfectionism is frequently defined by the desire to appear perfect. Perfectionists often experience an overwhelming sense of judgment from those around them, and they are continually striving to meet what they perceive to be others’ expectations.

This may appear to be a positive trait, and perfectionists are indeed more motivated and conscientious. However, perfectionism has significant drawbacks. Perfectionists are not only rigid, but they also give up on tough jobs more efficiently, which is ironic. Why? Because if they know they won’t be able to accomplish anything properly, they may not even try.

According to a 2017 study by the University of Bath, perfectionism was far more widespread than in earlier generations, which looked at British, American, and Canadian college students. It’s possible that social media is to blame. After all, it’s easier than ever to compare ourselves to others, and the pressure to meet unreachable online standards can be severe.

So, how can businesses prevent perfectionism from becoming a source of concern among their employees, particularly among younger employees? The solution is shockingly simple: teach your employees what constitutes good enough. If employees seldom receive positive feedback on work that is of an acceptable standard, problems can occur. Instead, feedback is only given when something isn’t up to par. Employees struggle to discern boundaries and are unsure how much effort to put into a piece of work. This is stressful for everyone, but especially for perfectionists who are afraid of being assessed harshly. As a result, even if the work isn’t excellent, supervisors must lavish praise on their employees.

It’s also good for supervisors to understand how perfectionism manifests itself in the workplace to spot employees who may require further assurance. Perfectionists may usually be identified by looking at who requests a lot of guidance on projects, as perfectionists tend to ask a lot more. There’s a good possibility that someone is a perfectionist if they struggle to take risks, no matter how tiny, and become defensive when challenged.

In conclusion, You should always take time to express your gratitude for a job well done, no matter how busy you are as a manager. As strange as it may seem, the team members who receive the most time and attention from their management are frequently the ones who fail. Managers are so preoccupied with improving the performance of the team’s weakest members that the strongest receive very little input. Ironically, this can make famous performers worried about the radio-quiet, causing them to think that their work isn’t up to par.

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