How to manage workplace anxiety

Psychologically, the workplace is in a state of constant free-floating anxiety. A lot of factors have contributed to and sustain this state including high unemployment, corporate downsizings, potential financial calamities in Europe, the depressed housing market, the erosion of manufacturing in America, and serious concerns about whomever finally becomes the next President of the United States.

The adverse effects of constant free-floating anxiety as related to work are well known. These include distraction, procrastination, missed deadlines, poor quality results, depression, excessive consumption of alcohol, and fears that can decrease morale and increase a range of psychosomatic symptoms.

What is less well-known—or discussed—about this type of anxiety is one very bad way many people try to manage it. Based on my conversations with numerous CEOs and other senior executives, I call this piling on the boss—or the POB Effect.

Here’s an example of how it happens. You are anxious about your continued employment in a company where you have worked for many years. You manage to get some face-to-face time with the top person in your organization—a person who is travelling constantly and is booked solid from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days. 

How to talk to your boss

In that 30-minute meeting, you say he needs to know how low the morale is currently because people don’t feel empowered, they don’t trust senior management given a lack of communication, and they’re worried for their jobs because of a rumored reorganization. At the end of the meeting, you ask him what your potential is in the company and give a blitz summary of your particular skills and accomplishments. Because you have completely POB-ed him, his reaction is bland and non-committal.  

If you want to get ahead, avoid the POB Effect and remember the following:

  • Do not ask for time on a senior executive’s calendar unless you have something constructive to offer. Remember: you will most likely diminish yourself if all you’re doing is raising the volume level on complaints and/or problems.
  • If you get time with a senior executive, be smart, succinct, and a good listener, too. Even a smart motor mouth is less effective than someone who can weave his/her ideas with what the executive has to say.
  • If there is an important issue in the organization that the executive needs to know about, state it but follow quickly with your thoughts about at least some short-term action that could have palliative effects.
  • Remember that your career development discussions are best had with your immediate boss.  Don’t blow time with a senior executive with the self-absorbed “how do you see my future in this company”question. If they want to go there, they will; otherwise, avoid this major corporate faux pas.
  • Even if you are super anxious about your future, remember that there’s still truth in the axiom, Never let ‘em see you sweat. Convey strength and sure-footed purpose to senior management. If you know someone in Human Resources or have had a mentor in the company, a conversation with those people could be helpful. Save any hand-wringing for your family and close friends—or, seek the help of a career management consultant.
  • If you have had a successful career in your company, strive to not over-react to rumors about reorganizations or mergers and the like. Stay focused on delivery good results. And, remember: often FEAR is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real.

About the Author

Karol Wasylyshyn, Psy.D.

Dr. Karol Wasylyshyn is a licensed psychologist, executive consultant and author of Behind The Executive Door: Unexpected Lessons for Managing Your Boss and Career.

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