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How to Help Your Teams Manage Anxiety at Work | 3 Takeaways from Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton’s Latest Book

October 6, 2021 Deana LaFauci

Retaining diverse employees during a time of high turnover, attracting a new talent pool in the form of recently graduated Zoomers, and meeting the changing needs of a millennial population of workers.

Those are just a few of the challenges set before leaders today—but it turns out, mitigating anxiety for your people may be one of the best ways to check the box on all three.

In their latest book, Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done, Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, with Anthony Gostick, make the case for a new future of work—one where we can manage and mitigate anxiety in a way that supports our people and our organizations.

The cost of anxiety is personal and organizational: In the US, workplace anxiety is estimated to cost $40 billion annually in lost productivity, errors and healthcare costs, while stress is estimated to cost more than $300 billion, write Gostick and Elton.

Leaders must leave behind old ways of thinking about anxiety, and work to support an open, compassionate and understanding workplace culture that faces the impact of anxiety head-on to mitigate the impact on their people—and ultimately their bottom line.

Check out these crucial takeaways from the book:

1. Uncertainty is a major cause of workplace stress—and leaders have a key role to play in creating clarity.

How often have you heard the phrase “in these uncertain times” over the past 17 months? For many people, the only certain thing about the last two years has been uncertainty—a major cause of stress and anxiety.

Job fears, write Gostick and Elton, are leading to a workforce in perpetual angst. By July 2020, 60 percent of American workers said they were concerned about job security.

Organizations are dealing with many unknowns, including making tough decisions about personnel and budgets. But leaders have the power to mitigate the anxiety felt by their workforce, even amid uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is intensified when managers at all levels don’t communicate clearly, precisely, and consistently about challenges facing their organization—and how these issues may affect their people,” write Gostick and Elton. “While there may be little that an individual manager can do to address root causes of big-picture uncertainty, what they can do is communicate what they know of challenges and what the organization is doing to address them, and especially how those challenges may impact their team and their priorities.”

Consider the ways you communicate with employees and identify ways to increase one-on-one facetime, recommend Gostick and Elton.

The traditional performance review simply isn’t working: According to a Leadership IQ survey of 30,000 people, only 29 percent of working adults know whether their “performance is where it should be.”

Forego once-a-year reviews to embrace continuous review, a way of giving managers the opportunity to share continuous feedback and gauge employee progress with real-time metrics. More frequent performance conversations also give employees the opportunity to raise issues or ideas they feel could improve their environment and ultimately, their performance.

These tactics work, write Gostick and Elton: Betterworks research has found that employees who discuss progress toward goals with their managers weekly are up to 24 times more likely to achieve their targets.

2. Leaders need to bring their compassion to work—and understand that everyone deals with burnout.

A member of the accounting team mentions they haven’t been hearing back from one of your employees—they are having to prompt them a few times via email before they get a response. A few weeks later, one of your account directors mentions that they go around that same person because they don’t reliably hear back. And, you’ve noticed this team member isn’t coming to meetings as prepared as they usually would be. What’s your first reaction? If it’s “Oh, he just can’t keep up,” rethink how you’re about to approach the situation.

Gostick and Elton point out that burnout affects almost all of us at some point in our careers. In fact, 2019 research from global staffing firm Robert Half showed that 91 percent of employees felt at least somewhat burned out at that moment.

“Leaders often fail to appreciate that constantly demanding more and more work in less and less time will lead to employee frustration, rising anger levels, and eventually anxiety and burnout,” write Gostick and Elton. “Managers may believe it is an individual failure when an employee is overwhelmed.”

The problem, they write, is organizational—and leaders should avoid focusing on fixing individual issues and instead focus on the underlying issues causing burnout and adapt how employees are managed.

Consider these easy ways to empower your employees to manage their anxiety. Managers can:

  • Help employees break up their work into optimal chunks
  • Create roadmaps
  • Better balance workloads
  • Rotate people
  • Closely monitor progress
  • Help people prioritize
  • Avoid distractions
  • Encourage R&R


3.
Leaders should consider the impact generational differences have on retention— and adjust their talent systems to account for the changing needs of a younger population.

Organizations looking to attract and retain diverse employees in an employee’s market understand that they have to offer flexible work formats, solid benefits and a great company culture. But, leaders must take this a step further. To meet the demands of the youngest populations in the workplace, organizations must provide clear development and promotion paths.

Consider the mobility of younger generations, write Gostick and Elton: 40 percent of baby boomers stayed with an employer for at least 20 years, and one in five stayed for 30 years or more, but 78 percent of Gen Zers and 43 percent of millennials surveyed in 2018 planned to leave their companies within two years.

Many factors are at play here, including lower wages and economic instability, but younger populations also indicate that they simply aren’t interested in sticking around without a clear advancement plan. According to a Gallup poll of millennials, 87 percent said they highly value growth and development—about 20 percent higher than Gen X and boomer workers.

“We found that when leaders offer younger workers regular chances to learn and advance—and find ways to secure their futures within an organization, many of those valuable employees prefer to stay,” write Gostick and Elton.

Consider this: More than 75 percent of Gen Z workers say they believed they should be promoted in their first year on the job. So, why not promote them?

Gostick and Elton share a radical idea: Organizations can leave behind their traditional promotion tracks, which tend to run on 2–5-year increments, and offer a new alternative.

They highlight a case study of Ladders, an online job search website, that did just that. Ladders phased out their original promotion program, which promoted a new hire to senior associate in two years, and replaced it with a program that provided six promotions over two years—with performance hurdles, title increases and pay bumps. “Leaders quickly realized that the moves weren’t seen by employees as fake promotions but were significant signposts of success on their career journey,” write Gostick and Elton.

The results, report Gostick and Elton, were transformational: New hires worked hard to reach each milestone and celebrated their accomplishments along the way. And because each milestone was closely aligned with mastering proficiencies directly related to the role, Ladders ended up with a more capable and focused workforce.

THE BIG TAKEAWAY

Leaders, your management style and tactics can increase or decrease anxiety for your team members—and with the cost of anxiety being so high and uncertainty increasing, now is the time to examine how you lead. With these ideas, tactics, and concepts from Gostick and Elton, you can lead with compassion and a keen understanding of your people’s needs, unlocking the power of potential at a critical time.

GET THE BOOK | Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, with Anthony Gostick. Executive coaches and #1 best-selling authors of All In and The Carrot Principle offer insight and advice in this practical eight-step guide both managers and employees can use to reduce work anxiety in the office and at home.

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