How to manage work-related insecurity and anxiety

Written by Dr Mark Scullard Tuesday 20 October 2020
As Coronavirus takes hold again, stress and anxiety are becoming part of everyday life at work. If left unmanaged, they can have a corrosive effect. But by recognising the two fundamental dimensions to human nature, managers can start making a difference

When you embark on any career, no-one pulls you aside and says, “Listen, there is going to be an entire layer of your role in which, pretty much every day,you’ll have to manage your own and other people’s insecurity.” What’s more, despite the fact that we all have insecurities, after adolescence a lack of confidence is usually seen as something we should have outgrown. A weakness.

However, it’s unrealistic and unwise for business leaders to ignore the fact that we all have insecurities. They inevitably affect how we behave and perform at work. With Coronavirus prompting many of us to self-reflect, now is the perfect time to consider how human insecurity might be impacting engagement and collaboration in unhelpful ways.

It’s only natural

The mentality that dismisses any visible insecurity as some kind of failure is superficial and out of touch. Concern for our physical safety aside, there is nothing we are more instinctively wired to worry about than our fundamental value and place in the world. Insecurity is the human condition, so much so that if you don’t have any insecurities rumbling around in your head, you potentially have a different, much more serious condition.

But this is just a personal issue, right? It doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) affect how you, or your team members, perform. You’ve got to work through your baggage on your own time. Get a therapist, or if you can’t afford a therapist, at least get a cat or a fidget spinner.

… Except, it’s the opposite. Insecurity has everything to do with how we do our jobs and whether we are successful as an individual, team or business.

The bottom line

When people don’t ask for help or speak up about a problem, decisions suffer and the bottom line takes a hit. When people feel they’re constantly being judged or marginalised, retention suffers and the bottom line takes a hit. When people fear taking a risk or challenging a bad solution, innovation suffers and the bottom line takes a hit.

The corrosive effects of unmanaged insecurity are so normal, so pervasive, that they’re almost invisible. But these seemingly small, subtle behaviours all build to have a real impact. Drip by drip, these actions slowly corrode the machinery of an organisation’s culture – a steady drain on communication, transparency, engagement, creativity and more. All attributes that are needed now more than ever, when we not only want but need people to bring their humanity to work.

How to manage insecurity

There is good news – we can do something about it.

We can take steps to significantly increase the level of trust in our cultures. And what’s more, a personality-based assessment approach to building trust has been proven to not only help people understand and appreciate their differences, but also develop actionable strategies for more impactful interactions. To unpack exactly why this personality-driven approach to trust-building is so effective we need to understand the two very fundamental dimensions of human nature that have outsized consequences in the workplace.

First, some people are more fast-paced and outspoken, where others are more cautious and reflective. Team members who are active and dynamic might find their thoughtful and methodical colleagues frustratingly slow or risk-averse. They want to get stuff done and feel held back. At the same time, their calmer colleagues who work more effectively at a moderate pace feel rushed, stressed, or unable to get a word in without a fight.

Second, some people are naturally more sceptical and questioning, where others are more accepting and warm. Those who are receptive and agreeable might feel that their logic-focused colleagues are overly critical or unreceptive. While those with a more sceptical nature feel overwhelmed by their people-focused teammates wasting time on social niceties and tact when they should just get down to business.

Create safe spaces

The solution to overcoming the differences in the workplace that make us unique but at the same time often fuel misunderstandings and guardedness? Build trust by helping people have open, safe conversations about their differences.

This starts with a short personality-based assessment that shows people where they sit on these two dimensions, and the impact this has on their interactions with colleagues. The deeper understanding gained from this relatively simple assessment gives people an actionable framework to organise their interpersonal relationships at work.  And with people working from home, this has taken on an even stronger significance.

As business leaders, we can build on this understanding by creating safe environments where team members can be vulnerable. A workshop or virtual training session is a great place to start, where instead of the negative experiences a person has come to expect when sharing their insecurities, they have a positive one. And they are able to learn and grow.

Long-term change

These positive experiences, when repeated, filter into the everyday working lives of your people and have a powerful effect. People learn intellectually, and more importantly emotionally, that it is okay to be vulnerable with their colleagues. They learn that they will be listened to, that they are valued, and that they are not alone in their insecurities.

In this volatile and uncertain working environment, how we choose to engage and interact with each other is critical to recovery and rebuilding. And by increasing the levels of trust in our business, we pave the way for more effective interactions. Because when we acknowledge and manage our own and others’ insecurities, we liberate a huge amount of energy, passion and potential into the workforce.

For more information, access a free download of the Everything DiSC eBook, The Invisible Drain on Your Company’s Culture by Dr Mark Scullard. Everything DiSC Workplace® is DNV-GL certified as an occupational test tool. It is EFPA compliant and to be used for development purposes.

At CMI, we understand how important it is to talk about your mental health – it shouldn’t be bottled up. If you find yourself struggling, we’ve written a few articles that could help you find your confidence again:

Dr Mark Scullard

Dr Mark Scullard

Dr Mark Scullard is a psychologist and senior director of product Innovation at Everything DiSC, a Wiley brand. For the last 16 years, he has worked with Wiley’s product development team to create engaging, research-validated learning experiences that help organisations to transform their culture.

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