6 Tips to Manage Workplace Anxiety

-Joe Wilner

There can be a lot to worry about when it comes to our careers.

Anxiety can arise from toxic co-workers, unstable working conditions, financial uncertainty, and distress about not performing up to par.

Some anxiety is healthy and keeps us motivated, but if anxiety becomes persistent and excessive it can disrupt our daily performance and our overall quality of life.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, employees say stress and anxiety most often impacts their …

  • workplace performance (56 percent)
  • relationship with coworkers and peers (51 percent)
  • quality of work (50 percent)
  • relationships with superiors (43 percent)

Those struggling with anxiety may turn down responsibilities that could benefit their career or avoid interacting with other people that are important for work projects or career goals.

To help you improve job-satisfaction and job-performance, here are six suggestions to help get your anxiety under control.

1. Stick to the essentials

First and foremost, maintain the habit of self-care. The mind and body are intricately connected, so our lifestyle has a direct influence on our mental health.

When we don’t take care of ourselves physically and ignore the daily essentials, we’re more likely to experience emotional imbalance.

To sustain emotional equilibrium make sure you eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and limit caffeine and alcohol. Try to keep your body and mind in shape to handle challenging situations.

2. Use square breathing for relaxation

When anxiety is triggered it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and we experience the fight-or-flight response. Using relaxation techniques is a great way to calm your physiology and offset the pattern of anxiety arousal.

Periodically during your day practice some form of deep breathing. Square breathing is one way to elicit relaxation. You can do this prior to meetings or before crucial conversations that trigger anxiety.

It’s just four simple breath segments done to a count of four.

  1. Inhale… 2… 3… 4…
  2. Hold… 2… 3… 4…
  3. Exhale… 2… 3… 4…
  4. Hold… 2… 3… 4…

Focus on your breath and the count of four; repeat the same process until you reach a relaxed state.

3. Work with your worries

Most worry totally normal and can help us take action to solve problems. If you have high levels of anxiety however, worry may be excessive and more alarming.

If you have a tendency to fixate on worrisome thoughts, try using a Worry Journal to express your concerns.

When we write out what is worrying us, we’re better able to process our concerns. A Worry Journal can help us gain awareness of what we’re actually worried about, and create some emotional space for us to problem solve.

4. Focus on progress, not perfection

Many people live with stress and anxiety because they have high expectations for their performance. Setting high standards and expecting positive results is important when it comes to success, but we also want to make sure we’re realistic and understand that we’ll make mistakes.

No one is perfect but often we expect ourselves to excel and achieve superior results. This can lead to all-or-nothing thinking and create performance anxiety.

Accept that you won’t always achieve your goals and that you’ll have good days and bad days. When you make a mistake don’t be so hard on yourself. Learn from your mistakes and identify the progress you’re making.

5. Focus on your zone of control

Anxiety can be exacerbated when we feel out of control or face a great deal of uncertainty.

Whether it’s coping with ongoing changes in the workplace or dealing with the erratic behavior of other people, you’ll cope with anxiety more effectively when you can adapt to change and keep focused on what you can control.

Ultimately, all you have control over is your own thoughts, attitude, actions, and choices. When you get anxious, ask yourself, “What can I do about this?” “How can I effectively deal with the situation?”

Avoid asking questions such as, “Why is this happening?” or “Why do they act that way?”

“Why” questions can leave you feeling helpless and inhibited.

6. Reach out for help

When it comes down to it, if you continue to struggle with anxiety the best option may be to seek professional help.

Take advantage of employer resources and benefits. Your workplace may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), discounts to gyms, or skill-building courses.

Learn what’s available and be proactive in getting a grip on anxiety.

Study Finds Workplace Peer Pressure Impacts Performance

-Janice Wood

A new study has found that the presence of high-performing co-workers can improve an individual’s performance, which boosts earnings.

Researchers from the University of York and the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at University College London (UCL), found that in low-skilled occupations, an increase of 10 percent in the average performance of co-workers raises a worker’s wage by almost one percent.

This is most likely driven by increased productivity because of pressure to keep up with better co-workers, the researchers said.

For the study, researchers looked at the wage records from administrative social security data for millions of workers and all of their co-workers over a period of 15 years across 330 professions in a large metropolitan area of Germany.

“We would expect that some positive practices would ‘rub-off’ on co-workers, and in fact we knew from previous research that such effects exist for specific occupations,” said Dr. Thomas Cornelissen, a researcher in the Department of Economics at the University of York.

“For example, a U.S. study showed that supermarket cashiers scanned shopping items faster when they worked the same shifts as fast-working employees. Our research showed that this effect was not unique to shop workers, but is applicable across many low-skilled jobs, such as waiters, warehouse workers, and agricultural assistants.

‘Moreover, our results show that improvements in performance due to co-worker quality raise a worker’s wages, something that hadn’t previously been analyzed.”

It was not clearly understood whether improvements in performance were due to learning from colleagues or whether it was more to do with the pressure to keep up, the researchers noted. To get a better sense of this, they looked at what happened after a high-performing co-worker left the company.

If learning from colleagues was the explanation for the positive performance effects, it was expected that remaining workers would keep up their performance after a high-performing co-worker left the company, the researchers speculated.

However, the data suggested that the opposite was true. Researchers found that the remaining workers tended to slip backwards after a good worker left, suggesting the productivity boost is more closely aligned with peer pressure, which lessens when good workers leave, potentially causing productivity and wages to stagnate.

The same rule did not apply, however, to high skilled occupations such as lawyers, doctors, and architects, according to the researchers. A reason for this could be that it is not as easy to observe the working practices of other colleagues in high-skilled professions, the researchers hypothesized. This means workers might not always know what everyone is doing or what it takes to achieve the objectives of that particular role.

The findings suggest there is less social pressure in high-skilled occupations compared to low-skilled, the researchers said.

“There are many challenges to conducting this type of work, such as the structure of the company, how to accurately establish cause and effect between co-workers, and finding a measure of good and poor performance,” Cornelissen added. “The more work we can do analyzing data from across the labor market, the more likely we will start to see common trends.”

He noted the study’s findings could be applied to a number of areas within companies, such as working from home policies, the design of office spaces, and training.

“Working from home is generally considered a good thing, for example, but if co-workers are as important as we think, it might not be the best option for everyone,” he said.

The study was published in the journal American Economic Review.

Fun at Works Helps Skill Development

-Rick Nauert, PhD

New research suggests all work and no play may hamper on-the-job learning at the worksite.

Pennsylvania State researchers discovered having fun at work was significantly related to informal learning, which includes most unstructured, non-classroom forms of learning.

Michael Tews, an associate professor of hospitality management explains that informal learning is a common method for employees to learn lessons that can improve their job performances.

“Most learning at the workplace occurs independently at the desk, or with a few other people, not necessarily in a classroom,” said Tews.

He added that it may not be the fun activities themselves that instill the new lessons, but how fun creates a better learning environment. People in fun work environments are more inclined to try new things and not fear possible mistakes, for example.

“You might not think there is this connection between informal learning and fun in the workplace,” said Tews.

“It’s easier to make the connection between fun and retention, or fun and performance to the extent that it leads to creativity, but fun and learning doesn’t seem connected at the face of it. The gist of this argument, though, is that when you have a workplace that is more fun, it creates a safe environment for learning to occur.”

The study looked at fun activities supported by management to enhance wellbeing — team-building activities or celebrations to recognize achievements, for example — and the manager’s overall support for fun on the job.

A manager’s support for fun actually mattered more than his or her support for learning, according to the researchers.

“There’s a lot of talk in the literature about a manager’s support for learning, or creating a climate for learning, and how that makes a culture for learning where workers learn from one another,” said Tews.

“What we’re showing is that this fun on the job actually matters as much as — or even more — than that support for learning.”

Fun can also bring coworkers together, which, in turn aids learning between workers.

“It creates this group cohesion,” said Tews. “So, when there’s fun, then the co-workers may be able to get to know each other, have better connections, and be more apt to help each other.”

While fun is often looked at as a distraction by managers, it may improve a worker’s resiliency and optimism, leading to better attention with tasks.

In the study, Tews teamed with John W. Michel, associate professor of business and management, Loyola University, and Raymond A. Noe, professor of management and human resources, Ohio State University.

Their paper appears online in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, currently online.

The researchers caution, however, that fun is not a cure-all for workplace productivity and learning.

In earlier research, Tews found that fun had a favorable effect on promoting employee retention, but could cause productivity to suffer. Managers, then, should be selective in how they use fun to encourage learning and productivity.

“With most management tactics, there are always going to be pros and cons,” said Tews. “There’s never going to be a perfect workplace, there’s never going to be a perfect management intervention, so you have to choose your battles.”

The researchers recruited 206 managers from a chain of 80 casual dining restaurants. The restaurants are decentralized with limited opportunities for classroom learning and rely on informal learning opportunities to improve knowledge and skills.

Participants were asked to rate fun activities, their own bosses’ support for fun, their attitude, and informal learning at their restaurants.

Tews said future research is needed to validate the study’s findings with other groups of employees. However, the current findings are promising to support the notion that fun has instrumental value in the workplace, he added.

Mismatch Of Personal Needs, Work Duties Can Fuel Burnout

-Traci Pedersen

A new study shows that burnout occurs when there is a mismatch between unconscious needs and the demands you experience at work.

For example, burnout may happen to an outgoing accountant who seeks to make new friendships but whose job offers little opportunity to do so, or perhaps to a manager who does not enjoy taking center-stage or being in a leadership role. In both of these examples, there is a mismatch between the employees’ individual needs and the requirements on the job.

Burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from work, which leads to a lack of motivation, low efficiency, and a feeling of helplessness. Its health effects include anxiety, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, insomnia, and depression.

“A motivated workforce is the key to success in today’s globalized economy. Here, we need innovative approaches that go beyond providing attractive working conditions,” said Dr. Beate Schulze, senior researcher at the Department of Social and Occupational Medicine at the University of Leipzig and vice-president of the Swiss Expert Network on Burnout.

“Matching employees’ motivational needs to their daily activities at work might be the way forward. This may also help to address growing concerns about employee mental health, since burnout is essentially an erosion of motivation.”

For the study, researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and the University of Leipzig in Germany recruited 97 women and men between 22 and 62 through the Swiss Burnout website, an information resource and forum for Swiss people suffering from burnout.

Participants completed questionnaires about their physical well-being, degree of burnout, and the characteristics of their job, including its opportunities and demands.

The study focused on two important motives: the power motive and the affiliation motive.

The power motive is defined as the need to take responsibility for others, maintain discipline, and engage in arguments or negotiation, in order to feel strong and effective. The affiliation motive is the need for positive personal relations, in order to feel trust, warmth, and belonging.

To assess these implicit motives — which can’t be measured directly through self-reports since they are mostly unconscious — the researchers used an inventive method: They asked the participants to write imaginative short stories to describe five pictures, which showed an architect, trapeze artists, women in a laboratory, a boxer, and a nightclub scene.

Each story was analyzed by trained coders, who looked for sentences about positive personal relations between persons (thus expressing the affiliation motive) or about persons having impact or influence on others (expressing the power motive). Participants who used many such sentences in their story received a higher score for the corresponding implicit motive.

The researchers found that a mismatch in either direction is risky: employees can get burned out when they have too much or not enough opportunity for power or affiliation compared to their individual needs.

“We found that the frustration of unconscious affective needs, caused by a lack of opportunities for motive-driven behavior, is detrimental to psychological and physical well-being,” said lead author Dr. Veronika Brandstätter, professor of psychology at the University of Zurich.

“The same is true for goal-striving that doesn’t match a well-developed implicit motive for power or affiliation, because then excessive effort is necessary to achieve that goal. Both forms of mismatch act as ‘hidden stressors’ and can cause burnout.”

The greater the mismatch between someone’s affiliation motive and the scope for personal relations at the job, the higher the risk of burnout. Likewise, adverse physical symptoms, such as headache, chest pain, faintness, and shortness of breath, became more common with increasing mismatch between an employee’s power motive and the scope for power in his or her job.

Importantly, the findings show that interventions that prevent or repair such mismatches could increase well-being at work and reduce the risk of burnout.

“A starting point could be to select job applicants in such a way that their implicit motives match the characteristics of the open position. Another strategy could be so-called ‘job crafting,’ where employees proactively try to enrich their job in order to meet their individual needs. For example, an employee with a strong affiliation motive might handle her duties in a more collaborative way and try to find ways to do more teamwork,” said Brandstätter.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Source: Frontiers

Psychiatric disorders more common among workaholics, study finds

If your life seems to revolve around your job, so much so that your relationships and social life suffer, then you’re likely to fall under the definition of a “workaholic.” It is no surprise that workaholism can induce stress, but a new study suggests that it may also be associated with psychiatric disorders.
[An overworked businessman]
Researchers found workaholics were more likely to meet criteria for OCD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression.

Published in the journal PLOS One, the study found that workaholics were more likely to have anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than non-workaholics.

According to the study authors – including Cecilie Schou Andreassen of the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Bergen, Norway – workaholism has been defined as “being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and to investing so much time and effort to work that it impairs other important life areas.”

With an increasing amount of Americans facing longer working hours and increasing job demands, workaholism is believed to be a common occurrence, with some studies estimating that it affects around 10 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Andreassen and colleagues note that previous studies have suggested a link between workaholism and psychiatric disorders; they set out to gain a better understanding of this association.

The Bergen Work Addiction Scale

The team analyzed data of 16,426 working adults of a median age of 37 years.

The researchers used the Bergen Work Addiction Scale to identify workaholism among the subjects, which involved participants rating how often the following statements applied to them in the past year:

  • You think about ways to free up more time for work
  • You spend significantly more time working than originally planned
  • You work to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression
  • Others have told you to work less but you don’t listen to them
  • You become stressed if you are prevented from working
  • Work is prioritized before hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise
  • You work to the extent that it negatively impacts your health.

Participants rated each statement on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always). They were deemed a workaholic If they scored “often” or “always” on four or more statements, and this occurred for 7.8 percent of participants.

Workaholics more likely to meet criteria for psychiatric disorders

Additionally, all participants were assessed for psychiatric symptoms through the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, the Obsession-Compulsive Inventory-Revised, and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale.

Compared with non-workaholics, the team found that workaholics were significantly more likely to have symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

A total of 32.7 percent of workaholics met ADHD criteria, compared with 12.7 percent of non-workaholics.

OCD criteria were met for 25.6 percent of workaholics, while only 8.7 percent of non-workaholics met OCD criteria.

Among workaholics, 33.8 percent met the criteria for anxiety and 8.9 percent met the criteria for depression, compared with 11.9 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, for non-workaholics.

Younger, single, and highly educated individuals with higher socioeconomic status were most likely to be workaholics, the researchers report.

Furthermore, workaholism was found to be more prevalent among individuals with managerial roles, those who worked in the private sector, and those who were self-employed.

Overall, the researchers say their results indicate that certain sociodemographic groups may be at increased risk of workaholism, and that workaholics may be more likely to have co-existing psychiatric conditions.

The authors add:

“Clearly, more research is warranted to elucidate these important relationships further. In the meantime, it is recommended that physicians and therapists should not take for granted that a seemingly successful workaholic does not have ADHD-related clinical features.

However, more research is needed to examine whether workaholism is totally negative for all individuals as it may be that workaholism may serve an important structuring function for those with mental health problems and those with social dysfunction.”

-Honor Whiteman