THESE ARE ANXIOUS times in the American workplace. Retailers had the worst Christmas season in decades, long-standing companies are closing their doors, workers are being laid off by the thousands and cutbacks are far and wide. Needless to say, tensions are running high everywhere. There is a lot of fear of the unknown; workers are literally worried sick. How to deal with all of this anxiety is a timely topic worthy of exploration.
In small doses, anxiety can be a useful emotion. It helps alert us to danger and can spark us into taking needed action. But when anxiety is chronic and hinders us (driving negative behavior or paralyzing us), it’s time to address it.
Wise leaders understand that emotions are contagious. Anxiety left unchecked can spread like wildfire in today’s environment. Companies and senior managers need to take a proactive approach to managing anxiety or risk it paralyzing their work force.
Here are a few coach’s tips to address and reduce workplace anxiety:
- Discuss relevant matters openly and appropriately. Bring your team together to talk about their stress and emotions. Tell them what is going on; give as much information as possible. The worst thing senior leaders can do during these turbulent difficult times is to go silent. Communicate often. Discuss how the organization plans to get through the tough times ahead, letting individuals know how they can contribute.
- Foster an environment that promotes fairness, compassion and transparency. People are in turmoil — to ignore this is ill advised. This is a time to be available if you are a leader; listen well and acknowledge the concerns of staff. Caring about the emotional health of employees is important. Leaders can’t afford to be oblivious to what is going on with their people emotionally — it results in collective distress, which leads to poor performance. Recognize when workers are “flooded” (overwhelmed by their emotions in a fight-or-flight reptilian brain response) and allow them time and space to recover.
- Keep your people connected (and I don’t mean electronically). It’s not healthy for people to hide out in cubicles struggling to concentrate day after day. We need human-to-human contact. It helps soothe anxiety and fear. Research shows that positive human contact reduces stress hormones. People in pain are helped when others reach out to them (allowing them to function more effectively again). Allowing time for employees to share human emotions and feelings is not only good for business — it’s being a good human being.
- Leaders’ emotions are particularly contagious, so managing anxiety is important. People look to their leaders for cues about how they should respond. How leaders “show up” emotionally can have a huge impact (positively or negatively) on an entire team or organization. Leaders can’t help their people manage their emotions unless they first manage their own behaviors.
- Develop self-soothing methods. There are numerous techniques that can help — tightening and then relaxing muscles, awareness of breath (slowing it down), deep cleansing breaths, meditation, listening to classical music or talking a walk around the block. All can help you feel more centered and calm.
- Dig yourself out. Reduce physical and electronic clutter — it adds to anxiety and drains energy. Find a workable system to track e-mails and filing. Clear time in your day to organize, prioritize and plan.
- Learn to notice and track your anxiety. One in 10 people are prone to anxiety disorders (get professional help if this is you!). It can be helpful to track and record in a journal or matrix what triggers anxiety for you. See if by keeping track over time you notice any patterns. Identifying the negative internal tapes that accompany anxiety can be helpful in getting rid of them. Practice noticing the thought pattern and letting it go or “shooting” your automatic internal critic.
Invest in your people with skill development, coaching support and training. Given the extreme stress levels in today’s workplace, this is a prime time to offer staff or management conflict resolution, emotional intelligence and/or communication training. There are learnable skills, techniques and tools that I train that can help your people work through differences more effectively in today’s turbulent, uncertain environment. Call today for help: 360 682 5807