What Is Organizational Anxiety?
Anxiety can be a stealthy dynamism: Not only does it sap energy levels and harm our health; it also eats away at job performance and throttles innovation and creativity. Like individuals, organizations can also agonize from symptoms of anxiety. In the long run, anxiety can lessen an enterprise’s premeditated adaptability and efficiency.
During the recent years, researchers have beheld at anxiety from an interesting new perspective. As they see, the origin of anxiety is the struggle between life and demise. This fight that rages within individuals also takes place in work groups and organizations. Of course, organizations do not experience death in the same way that individuals do; however, they do face the very real possibility of financial or operating demise. Organizations can terminate to exist through bankruptcy, takeover, mergers, and so forth. As a result, they experience their own kind of anxiety
Apprehension subsists in every organization, and is a powerful contributor to the “hidden chemistry” and human dynamics that destructively affect organizational performance, often without warning. The standard organization chart shows the way a system is supposed to function, accounting, no emotions, no relationships, and no anxiety. Organizations run on an extremely complex system of communications.” We want to think that every employee is focusing on the work, the tasks and the goals set up on the chart of functions and reporting; regrettably, it’s just not the case.
What are the threats that trigger anxiety at work?
• “How can I avoid getting responsible for this?”
• “What if I get sacked?”
• “She gets all of the good projects.”
• “That’s not rational.”
• “They think that new employee is superior than I am.”
And how do the employees mostly respond?
• Infighting—digging in an on issue dwelling on superficial “battle lines”
• Scapegoating—indicating the blame for our deprived performance
• Disengagement—hiding out to avoid encounter
• Absenteeism and turnover—running away from the anxiety
• Health issues—physical responses due to emotional turmoil
Employee productivity is completely tied to engagement, and team accomplishment is a function of human crescendos. Neither can thrive if the system is wrought with anxiety and lacks the awareness and leadership tools to ratchet it down. But what if a leader understood these dynamics—how this emotional system works, and could become skilled at looking at the organization in a different way? He or she would be able to see, think and lead differently, recognizing these invisible forces. It’s analogous to climbing on to a large balcony and observing how the system that is your organization really functions. Could the leader cope his employees’ anxiety?
Simply ‘a no’. A leader can only manage his/her individual anxiety. Organizational anxiety mostly starts from the top. Changing other people’s feelings is just not in the job description–or is conceivable. The leader’s anxiety affects the whole system, and that sentiment circulates all through the organization, as employees look to the person in responsibility for guidance, both in direction and in emotion.
The only anxiety that a leader needs to attempt to control is his or her own: what causes it, how employees react to it, and how it impacts and “trickles down” to every part of the organization. The leader’s “mood”—anxious or otherwise–affects the whole system.
However, if the bad news is that the leader is an “anxiety carrier”, there is also a silver coating. He/she might also be capable of serving as a sort of step down modernizer, dipping the nervous power in the system by demonstrating calm and equanimity. If the leader leads in this manner, it, too, can be infectious; employees will work more calmly and more focused.
Defenses against Anxiety
Writings proliferate on how work-groups try to cope with the disparaging approaches of anxiety. According to a theory, some companies resort to a form of defense that combines three strategies called splitting, projection, and introspection that individuals often use to keep off anxiety at a distance. Splitting happens when we detached the “good” aspects of our lives from the “bad.” We then project “bad” qualities onto others and intervene “good” qualities into ourselves. This approach helps us to feel more in control of our panic, because we turn our responsiveness in judging and trying to control others.
For instance, an apprehensive manager might split good and bad by considering himself all-powerful (he interposes well into himself) while at the same time dismissing subordinates as unworthy (he projects bad onto others). Even worse, a manager in this mind frame might be obligated to act on these projected feelings by punishing workers with extra work, unbearable schedules, unreachable goals, and so and so forth. Employees may quit and new ones are hired, but the tough schedules and unattainable goals persist regardless of the individuals on boarded at any given time.
Groups or organizations that are leaderless can suffer more anxiety than most. For example, self-directed work teams may have difficulty making decisions if no leader steps forward. The team may become ineffective as it struggles to search for a leader, thus creating what can be paralyzing anxiety.
In these cases, the people involved often defend themselves against fearful emotions in three ways:
• Dependency- The cluster stops trying to resolve its problems and instead waits for a “messiah” to protect it.
• Pairing- Two individuals related to the group (for example, two group members, or one member and an outside consultant) combine to try to oust someone they consider a “bad” member.
• Flight/Fight – Group members blame all problems on an outside root, or they pretend that no problem exists.
Defense mechanisms are neither noble nor evil, and indeed can help protect us from emotional overkill. The way these mechanisms are stitched together in an organization’s mental model can create the precise opposed of what the group wants: Instead of dipping the anxiety, this conduct only worsens it. And mental models are infamous for leading to self-fulfilling insights: We see only what we expect to see, and then we act in ways that bring about results that confirm our rule-books.
When anxiety lodges itself in a company’s collective mental model of how things work, it will continue to perpetuate itself until the organization’s behavior changes to balance or reduce the increasing anxiety. For example, many organizations pride themselves on their “heroic” acts. When crises strike, creating high levels of anxiety, a few heroes step forward to “save the day.” The organization rewards the heroes. At the same time, by giving rewards, the organization inadvertently encourages the creation of future crises, which will lead to more anxiety and then to additional rewards for heroic action. This behavior is a perfect example of self-perpetuating anxiety.
So How Do You Break the Dependency Cycle?
I’ve found that there are two ways to battle a vicious “Messiah” Circle:
1. Enable autonomous decision-making
This is easier said than done, but the idea should not be cast aside because it’s hard. Sticking to the status quo is tougher. Take a look at your organization and find the areas of the business that bank on you or others in management. Is there a better way to arrange and train your teams to empower them to make their own decisions?
The telephone game we’d created via our structure caused miscommunication and delayed decisions due to the time it took from a message to get from the bottom to the top and back down to the bottom again. By the time communication had completed that cycle, it was distorted.
Between the squads being cross-functional and holding each other accountable for handing end-to-end responsibilities for our clients, and chapters handling product marketing and quality assurance, the need for a manager to decide on all things was detached.
Red tape management approvals became outmoded because as leaders, we provided the guardrails in which to make decisions (essentially the criteria we would have used had they asked for approval) and trusted our teams to make the right select.
We still have managers, but they now focus on professional and individual development of their direct reports.
It’s not enough to give them the reigns. The second part of that equation – teaching them how to make verdicts for the company over individual teams or themselves – is similarly important.
2. Focus on Communication and Emotional Agility
You can provide your teams “what” and “why” all day long, but if they are not good communicators, they’re never going to figure out “how”. They will also continue to struggle through their stress management.
It’s hard but it’s also wonderful and critical to our success and ability to communicate both within, as well as be strong consultants to our customers or clients.
When everyone prioritizes communication and not letting fear run their decision-making processes, combined with leadership pairing the right people and providing the right strategies and training on how to make the decisions we would have made, everyone wins.
It’s not easy, but it’s that humble.