Anxiety in the Workplace

In a recent conversation with an industry colleague he’d mentioned to me his current leadership was telling people in the organization that they were “trying to create anxiety among the team” with a handful of surprise layoffs. No performance discussions, no realistic talk about the status of the company from a financial and strategic perspective, just a sudden severing of ties. The use of the word anxiety took my breath away, and that a CEO would be seeking to create it is astonishing. To be clear, anxiety is not a leadership tool or a cultural value that should ever be in play. As my friend Lisa, a C-level executive of a Fortune 200 company said, this is a case of leadership malpractice. (Whoa! I love that term.)

Needing to dig a littler deeper around that term I found a great HBR article from 2008 with a solid description of “leadership malpractice”: “When a healthcare provider or an attorney is negligent to an extent that deviates from accepted standards of professional practice, and when this negligence causes injury, there can be consequences. He or she can be sued for malpractice. Accountants and investment advisors can also be sued for malpractice, as can other professionals now held to a standard expected on the basis of their training and expertise. In light of this recent history, there is no reason to exempt leaders, people in positions of authority, from analogous accountability.”

Recently I was listening to Dan Miller – author of No More Dreaded Mondays – on the Dave Ramsey podcast EntreLeadership talking about how to live a life of meaning. He kicked off with some startling statistics:

  • Sunday evening is the highest point of suicide for men in America – knowing they have to face a Monday morning that is not a fit for them;

  • Monday morning between 8am – 10am there are more heart attacks then any other day of the week and time of the day and you can track the phenomenon across the country, through time zones, as the sun rises.

Are you as shocked and saddened by these statistics as I was? People are so misaligned with their jobs and so depressed by the work that they do that no life at all is a better course of action? The stress from your job so severe that it causes your heart to cease? Unacceptable. Leaders within organizations purposefully creating anxiety among their workforce? Reckless.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for most of my career and discovered the primordial urge to uncover needs in organizations and fill them. Consulting has been a great profession for me because it allows me to do just that in repeat. I also have a high tolerance for risk taking and a low tolerance for bullshit – I am happy to strike out on my own versus feeling beholden to others.

Are you done with the belief that others define your value? No longer interested in working in environments that cause stress or anxiety? Reflect on these things:

  • First off recognize if your current job is a good fit – it doesn't mean you have to quit immediately if not – but if getting up for work is difficult or depressing it’s time to move on.

  • Answered yes to the above? Take the time (but not too much time!) to find your purpose or “crystalizing your calling” as Dan Miller says, which is to define why are you here.

  • Define your core values and use these as guideposts in current and future employment decisions – don’t settle for working with an organization that doesn't value what you value.

  • Find a mentor or a coach, someone you trust, who can help you through the process of discovery. They will serve as a reminder that the intersection of purpose, calling, and destiny is not a place of complete certainty and easiness and if it is, you haven’t found your sweet spot.

Remember that destiny leaves clues on the path to finding your purpose through passion and our inner voice. Listen carefully and don’t let anyone make you feel as though you need to hustle for your sanity, health or self-worth.

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