There is anxiety everywhere in your office. However many breakout spaces you install, socials you organise and old hierarchical formalities you do away with – the anxiety is still there.
Why? To answer that, we have to acknowledge the different types of anxiety. First there’s the more common kind: people feeling anxious about their performance and whether their job is safe. The other type of anxiety is more serious: it has no obvious cause.
So what can a leader do?
Remember to praise
However calm and confident people appear, a good portion of them live their working life waiting to be pulled up for something. Impostor syndrome affects a huge number of us. Sometimes it just takes a simple positive comment to defuse this and reassure people that you’re not brewing some terribly negative appraisal of their performance.
In The Art of Communicating, Thich Nhat Hanh says that one form of leading-by-example is to ‘model relaxation’ – that is, to present a relaxed demeanour to your teams and to demonstrate that you are committed to nurturing that kind of environment. You might be known as a student of meditation or breathwork, for instance.
Normalise and contextualise feedback
Even negative feedback. Presumably you work hard to nurture a positive, supporting environment where employees are reminded of their value and of how much they are wanted. Within this context, critiquing performance does not become catastrophic. It is about a minor tweaking of an employee’s methods or approach, rather than a wholesale dismantling of their worth. Give feedback often and with a light touch so that it is taken the right way and does not knock the employee into a bout of grave soul-searching.
In any case, as this HBR piece reveals, people would rather have constructive negative feedback than a boss who undermines their development by sugar-coating everything.
Do away with presenteeism
According to this Fast Company article , Asana and Dropbox run a system where “Employee hours are not set or tracked, and they are encouraged to work a schedule that is best for them and their families. There is no limit on time off but […] employees are asked to be mindful of team goals and commitments”. This might be a step too far for your business right now (particularly if you’re a start-up) but it’s worth bearing in mind the priceless value of taking ownership of your output – not to mention of being away from the office with loved ones.
Explain that you value output over input
Anxiety can lead people to overwork and to put in ineffectual effort. This Entrepreneur article makes the excellent point that, as leaders, we should make clear that we value the output, not the input – it’s what you produce with the hours you work that counts, not the hours you work themselves.