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Dealing with Your Team’s Anxiety Even Though You Aren’t a Shrink

The health of your business depends on the health of your employees. The mental health of your employees, that is.

With so much rapid change, it’s hard to accommodate it. Work in many fields has gone instantly virtual (by necessity or by choice).  With the uncertain economy, many are experiencing layoffs and furloughs (or the fear of them). And, around the world society is shifting in massive ways very quickly.

No wonder your people have a bit of anxiety. It’s a normal reaction to change. Our brains are instinctively wired that way.

It’s what your people do with the fear and anxiety that makes the difference. And it’s what you do as their leader to create an environment where they can cope with it that can cause your business to thrive or dive.

I don’t have credentials in clinical psychology and likely neither do you. That’s okay. Know your limitations. Some of your employees may need access to counseling or employee assistance programs to deal with their many pressures. It’s a good thing. Encourage them to take advantage of what will help them.

In your day-to-day leadership however, there’s much you can do to prevent your team’s anxiety from taking your business down.  Here are six strategies you can use as a leader to keep the fear anxiety in its place:

Mindset Makes the Difference

From the neuroscience research, we know that what our brains focus on creates the reality we function in. So, our mindset has a major influence and impact. The tone you set lays the path for your people to follow. Some key mindsets to reinforce in team meetings and in individual conversations…

“It’s normal to have some fear and anxiety in the face of change or uncertainty”
“We will get through the challenges by keeping our focus on where we need to go”
“We have dealt with difficult situations before and we can do it again”
“We can plan ‘tight’ and ‘hang loose’ because flexibility is essential”

Emphasize What is Still the Same

As significant as many changes in your industry, business, or workplace might be, there’s still more that is the same as before rather than different.  Changes are easier to take when they seem evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Frame any changes to the organization, mission, policies, processes, systems, etc. as “doing the same thing we have been doing but in a somewhat different way.” Saying, “the business environment is completely disrupted, we need to change the way we do absolutely everything,” will send people into orbit even if it’s true.

Make Space for Them

Many people, especially the more extroverted among us, need the opportunity to talk about what’s on their mind. Making some space in a staff meeting to discuss what they are thinking airs out the cobwebs. And, team members realize that others may have similar feelings or alternative viewpoints.

But, how do you keep from it turning into a complaint session? An easy way to do this is by implementing a “check-in” at the beginning of the meeting where each member of the team says something about what is on their mind that day or even just a word or phrase that sums up their day so far. Everyone’s voice gets into the room, you get the pulse of your team and those that are bursting to say something can speak. Win, win, win!

Focus on the Must-Dos

When people are suffering from high (or even low) anxiety, their performance drops. Yet, you need to keep the engine moving.

Keep an eye on the mindset of those team members with mission-critical responsibilities or functions that would be points-of-failure if neglected. Buoy those individuals where needed to keep your operations operating.

Don’t Be the Source of Greater Anxiety

If you enjoy pouring more lighter fluid on your backyard barbecue after the fire has started, this part is for you. When teams are feeling uneasy, this is not the time for you to be a “bomb thrower.” It is the time for a stabilizer and an anchor. That doesn’t mean you don’t support and encourage big changes. Just keep your cool so you can be the example that others need to make it through.

And, you’re human, right? You probably have concerns, discomfort and doubts. Find your own support system elsewhere. Being vulnerable and honest with your team is important. Just don’t rely on them to shore you up.

Resist the Urge

Your demeanor may be composed and unshaken. Anxiety for you may be merely “positive tension.” Remember that’s not true for many people. Anxiety leads to overwhelm. Which leads to debilitation for some employees.

Above all, please don’t tell them to, “Stop whining.” Instead, encourage them to express what they are feeling and thinking but not to dwell there. After some (brief) “air time” encourage them to focus forward rather than on past fears and present tensions or concerns. Staying stuck in the story doesn’t help. Empathizing without excessive sympathizing is the key.

You have a great opportunity to channel the frenetic energy of your people into positive action if you focus on leading in a way that helps your people resolve their anxiety.