Easing Employee Anxiety and Fears in the Workplace

Barbara Soderlin of the Omaha World Herald wrote a fitting story for the popular Halloween holiday. It focuses on work-related fears and employee anxiety that haunt adults year-round. MindSet was asked to comment on the national survey data that is featured in her story. You can read the OWH story here.

And for MindSet readers, we thought on Halloween we would provide a more thorough response to these interesting adult “workplace fears.” Enjoy!

Employee fear – or anxiety – is sometimes a result of irrational thinking on the part of the employee, but often it can also be traced back to poor leadership and dysfunction within the organization itself.  The former comes more under the need for individual counseling, so I will deal here with the latter. 🙂 When MindSet finds high anxiety within a staff, we usually find at least one of the following conditions to be present.

  1. Few things engender fear within the workplace more quickly than a lack of trust between employees and management.  Fear is noticeably absent when there exists an assumption of good will between employees and management coupled with a genuine belief that each is sincerely committed to the other’s success.
  2. Poor decision making processes.  Even when trust is adequate, levels of employee fear will be correlated to the degree they feel excluded from decision making processes.  In healthier organizations, employees believe that they will have appropriate opportunities for input prior to significant decisions being made.  Of equal importance, good management takes active steps to provide staff with context and reasoning for decisions that are reached.  Secrecy breads anxiety – and once you have been shocked by an unexpected announcement, it takes a long time before that sense of dread subsides.
  3. Poor evaluation methods and terrible conflict management.  You want fear in a staff?  Just make sure you terminate a few employees unexpectedly each year, and do it by calling them into the office at 9:00 A.M. to tell them, and then have security watch them box up their belongings and walk them out of the building.  Now you have fear!  This is flat-out poor leadership.  No termination should come as a surprise to an employee, and unless the employee has committed a criminal act, the termination process should have as its primary focus the well-being and dignity of the individual being released.
  4. An overly emotional, angry, or just unpredictable supervisor.  Again, it is uncertainty that can bread anxiety.  Not knowing what mood you will find your supervisor to be in creates fear just walking into the building.  This is one of the reasons MindSet focuses on helping leaders to strengthen their ability to maintain rational thought and constructive interaction patterns with employees – particularly through times of organizational stress.
  5. Fear of being second-guessed.  This is a big one.  Some professions are particularly susceptible to this hovering storm cloud, for example, police, investment advisors, surgeons, soldiers, coaches – actually any position where an immediate call often has to be made on the spot.  In these situations there is no time to leisurely ruminate on all the facts and contingencies.  Unfortunately, the world is populated with individuals who, after all the facts are later known, feel free to condemn others who they believe made the wrong call.  Of course, now with the benefit of hindsight, those doing the criticizing actually believe they would have made a better call.  This tendency to second-guess the decisions of others can inject fear into the bloodstream of an organization – and understandably lead to a failure to act at the very time when action is most necessary.

Now that we’re done scaring you, we hope you have a safe and fun Halloween!