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I know you’ve been there; sitting in the parking lot of your office, with that anxious pit in your stomach because you know how it’s gonna go in there. You either can’t eat, or you overeat to beat the stress. You can’t sleep or you can’t get out of bed.
Whichever extreme plagues your daily work life, it feels like endless torture. And, if you thought it would actually do any good, you’d open the nearest window and scream – “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Like you, I’ve lived through this more than once either as an employee and a business owner. I’ve read dozens of books on the topic and this week, a new one showed up that I thought I’d share with you — Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton
What Causes Anxiety at Work
Thirty percent of all Americans report symptoms of anxiety at work, including forty-two percent of people in their twenties. And, when you overlay Gallup’s research that reports a third of all employees are disengaged, well, it doesn’t take a genius to see that perhaps some level of anxiety is at the root of it.
According to authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, anxiety at work is primarily caused by levels of uncertainty, overwhelming workload, perfectionism, not feeling valued and accepted, and a relative lack of social bonding with associates.
While Anxiety at Work answers the question of what causes anxiety, in the workplace and offers coping strategies, it makes an assumption that I think you, my dear reader, will notice within a minute of flipping through the book — that leaders and managers are reasonable, nice people with generally acceptable leadership skills.
As you and I know, most of these anxiety causing situations are caused by difficult people who have gotten ahead despite lacking any level of emotional intelligence. Am I right?
But, I digress. Anxiety at Work isn’t about “that person”. It gently avoids that reality and focuses on the hope that you are part of the sixty percent of people who are lucky enough to be at least somewhat engaged in your profession and are working with reasonable human beings who seek to eliminate stress among their teams, but just lack some direction.
And if that is you, then let’s take a close look at those 8 strategies that will help your team build resilience, handle uncertainty and get stuff done (without losing your mind in the process.)
8 Strategies on How to Deal with Anxiety at Work
Whether you’re a manager or an employee, this book can help! It has 8 strategies that will leave your workplace feeling less anxious and more healthy.
The authors developed these strategies from working hands-on with managers and teams over several years. This means even if you don’t understand all the science behind what makes us anxious, knowing what steps to take will help you reduce some level of stress on yourself and your team.
I’m not going to list all eight, but I will pull out those that I think will help you get an idea of what you’ll find in the book.
Deal with Uncertainty
Fear of the unknown is the basic cause of stress that comes from uncertainty. And, today’s work environment is loaded with uncertainty and hence, fear. Sixty percent of Americans are concerned about job security. Even worse, younger workers, particularly millennials live in a constant state of uncertainty.
The authors advise that the best way to deal with uncertainty is to attach it head-on with information. Here are just a few recommendations:
- Make it ok to not have all the answers.
- Loosen your grip and stop resisting change.
- Keep people as informed as you can and be clear about what’s expected.
- Stay focused on what you can control.
- Make it ok to take action.
- Provide constructive feedback.
Balance Workload Balance
The pandemic has created a perfect storm of workplace overload coupled with family responsibilities that have disproportionately affected women employees and business owners.
As solutions they list the following:
- Creating clear roadmaps so that employees can see a path to success.
- Balance workloads by opening up communication and making it ok to share those areas of your work and life that are getting in the way of optimum productivity.
- Avoid distractions. I found this recommendation somewhat unrealistic and difficult to do. I’d restate this to focus on helping your teams set realistic goals and priorities.
- Encourage R&R. Again, this is terrific advice and harder to implement with today’s time and resource-strapped teams.
Anxiety at Work doesn’t have all the answers, but it definitely gives you and your team some ideas that you can customize to work in your specific organization.
Feel Valued and Accepted
This is the last strategy that I’m going to cover because I think that it’s a critical strategy that ultimately impacts the rest; charting career paths, managing perfection, finding your voice, building social bonds and promoting confidence. You can find more detail and more strategies inside the book. But for now, let’s talk about how to help the people on your team feel valued and accepted.
This particular strategy is targeted at what the authors call “marginalized employees” such as LGBTQ team members, disabled team members or any other member who suffers from some type of stigmatized or biased experience.
However, I feel that the strategies proposed by the authors, if applied, will make a positive impact on your organization’s well being.
- Listen. 75% of the time we spend listening is occupied by distractions. Just listening to your team members fulfills the human desire to be seen, heard and understood.
- Sponsor. As a small business owner, you are a leader. The authors advocate sponsoring and supporting often marginalized groups for the purpose of showing them that they matter. It’s important to avoid doing this as a form of pandering, rather as an authentic desire to support your team.
- Stand Up and Advocate: Years ago leaders were encouraged to be stewards of their organization. In other words, to serve their employees and communities.
Again, this section is really focused on marginalized groups in your organization, but I think it’s a pivotal strategy for leaders across their organization.
About the Authors
You can say that Gostich and Chester have been a dynamic duo in the field of leadership. They have co-written several books; All In and The Carrot Principle which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide.
Gostick is the founder and Chester is the co-founder of The Culture Works, a global training company that has trained more than 850,000 people over the last 20 years.
While Gostick and Chester may not be household names in the world of small business, you might have seen either of them on CNN, ABC, MSNBC or quoted as experts by publications like The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.
While their advice is centered on larger companies and teams, their insights come from solid research that small business owners can easily embrace.
How Will Anxiety at Work Help You Run Your Business
You’ll see a lot of yourself and perhaps your team in Anxiety at Work. The authors offer a lot of vivid stories of leaders in your position as well as employee stories that will strike at your heartstrings.
But, I want to come back to where I started. The importance of being a good leader. While a good leader can also be a rainmaker, being a rainmaker doesn’t translate to good leadership. In fact, a recent LinkedIn study noted that 88% of people said they would be happier and less stressed if their boss didn’t show up for work!
Bad bosses cost your business money. Training Industry Magazine reported that a bad boss can cost your business $150,000 per bad boss, per year!
While Anxiety at Work never points fingers at leaders, I couldn’t stop myself from constantly asking the question, where does work stress come from? And while Anxiety at Work provided a complete list of causes and how to deal with them, they expect you to be smart enough to see how you might contribute to these causes.
While none of us is perfect, we can all embrace the feedback the authors collected and the strategies they propose to alleviate our stress and that of our employees so that our businesses can grow to what we envision them to be.