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  • Writer's pictureKaitlin Henze

Can anxiety enhance your organization's culture?

Most of us are aware (and likely tired of hearing) that mental health challenges are on the rise. There are a plethora of articles and tools designed to help employers "create a less stressful work environment" or to help employees "manage their anxiety" so that it does not impact their work. Organizations are spending millions of dollars on wellness initiatives and mental health tools to support their employees in challenging times because emotions DO impact the quality of our work and our relationships.

The increased attention on mental health in the workplace is certainly a fabulous trend that supports overall well-being of employees. However, it is primarily focused on reducing stress, diminishing anxiety, and overcoming difficult emotions. Again, all great things, but something is missing...

The truth is that organizations are powered by humans and humans will always have complex emotions like anxiety, fear, anger, and insecurity. So rather than only focusing on reducing these emotions at work, how about we tap into their benefits?

Anxiety (and its familiar cousins of other difficult emotions) can be beneficial in the workplace when approached in an open-minded way. I have worked with a variety of teams to transform their culture from one that is tense, siloed, and solemn to one that is collaborative, friendly, and curious all by changing the way people approach difficult emotions at work.

Here are the 5 strategies that I use to help teams embrace anxiety to enhance their culture:

Anxiety promotes a growth mindset: We feel anxious because there is something out of our control. When we surface these concerns and learn to embrace the supposed consequences as learning opportunities, we naturally develop a growth mindset and a willingness to try and fail. Which ultimately helps us feel less anxious!

Anxiety provides space for vulnerability: When we feel anxious and express it to our coworkers, we build stronger bonds and increase psychological safety within the team. This is especially powerful when done by leaders in a public setting as it gives the signal that it is ok to not feel "good" all the time.

Anxiety builds emotional intelligence: Recognizing our anxiety increases our self-awareness and our awareness of others. This allows us to be more attuned to emotions, which improves our relationships over time.

Anxiety tells us what we care about: Have you ever noticed that you feel more anxious the more you care about something? This is due to the fear of losing something that is precious to us. When we talk about anxiety regularly at work in teams our 1:1s we gain insight into what is important to the Company, teams, and individual employees.

Anxiety builds a community: The more open we are at work about our anxiety, the more human we become to others. Rather than seeing coworkers for the jobs that they perform, we see them as a support system, trusted advisor, and friend. This sense of community can increase engagement, retention, and collaboration in teams.

I worked with a leadership team recently that had conflict stemming from old grudges, lack of understanding, and varying work styles. They met each week and jumped right into business by reporting out on progress, talking about roadblocks, determining who was at fault for any problems, and stating next steps. The energy in the room was serious and tense.

After a few micro learnings on topics of mindful communication, the power of emotional intelligence, and navigating conflict with compassion, I introduced my mood elevator check in exercise, and asked them to try this at the beginning of their team meetings.

This simple 10-minute activity when done weekly over 4 months, helped this team understand each other, have open lines of communication, and build trust that helped them eradicate some of their problems.

It seems soft and squishy, and I help teams apply these emotional concepts in a way that is directly tied to accomplishing their business objectives. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you and your team thrive!

To dive deeper into this concept, check out Thriving with Anxiety by Dr. David Rosmarin. This book has completely transformed my relationship with my own anxiety!

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