• Generic selectors
    Exact matches only
    Search in title
    Search in content
    Post Type Selectors

The Workplace Has Been Shattered: So What’s Next?

By Adrian Gostick – Speaker on Leadership, Anxiety in the Workplace and Employee Engagement

Leadership Keynote adrian gostick Speakers Bureau The Sweeney Agency

After two years of stress and anxiety—of uncertainty, resignations, and months out of the office in isolation—many leaders are ready to admit that the workplace we knew before March of 2020 is not coming back.

As one interviewee told me during the pandemic, “If you aren’t suffering from anxiety by now, you aren’t paying attention.”

Mandatory closures, workplace restrictions and a litany of other variables have left many who didn’t previously struggle with anxiety feeling its effects. A lot of these feelings are stemming from people’s trepidation about the future.

Human brains have evolved to be creative, in part to protect us from dangers we can’t anticipate without a degree of imagination. Unfortunately, many people’s brains haven’t yet evolved to deal creatively with the constant uncertainty of modern corporate life. They may fixate on layoffs or furloughs instead of thinking about innovative ways to further the organization’s mission or serve clients.

Leaders who are honest and open with their teams about dangers produce better results than those who refuse to be transparent. Uncertainty triggers often negative responses in people, including anxiety. In tandem with stress, that can have detrimental and devastating consequences on performance. Allowing ambiguity to cause long-term stress will almost always inhibit productivity.

The pandemic has shown us most people will never do their best work in uncertain environments. While certainty may be a rarity, leaders can mitigate the stress teams feel give them the best tools to thrive during in this new work environment.  

Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers, told me: “Whether we are facing a pandemic, social injustice, or just because there’s too much to know today, the job of the leader is to say to their people, ‘Come with me into the dark. Together, we are going to navigate our way through complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, and volatility to a better place.’ A leader harnesses the collective intelligence of the team to find answers along the way.”

While there’s not much a leader can do about the things that cause anxiety outside of the workplace, they can do a lot to help reduce uncertainty for the team members in their care with a few simple strategies:

Check in One-On-One

A good deal of employee anxiety is about their own performance and growth opportunities. In other words: How am I doing? and Do I have a future here? Managers create more ambiguity when they aren’t clear about such simple things, even if the news isn’t all that great. Greg Piper, worldwide director of continuous improvement for Becton, Dickinson & Co., holds one-on-one performance and development sessions every other week for thirty minutes with each of his team members, who are all remote and spread around the globe. “‘What do you want to talk about?’ is always the first question I ask,” he said. He wants to know what his people are facing, first and foremost; but these sessions also include honest feedback and guidance. A safe and open platform for his people to discuss their issues, along with scheduled and expected feedback for improvement, have helped his one-on-one meetings reduce uncertainty and help keep everyone on the same page.

Make It Okay To Not Have All The Answers

When Lutz Ziob was general manager of Microsoft Learning, he led his team through a significant transformation that would change their business model. Ziob didn’t have all the answers, so he turned to his people and introduced a structured way to debate. He asked team members to come to a series of future-focused discussions with evidence and a point of view. He provided the best information available, gave each person a voice to analyze their future and then they could make informed decisions as a group. In these debates, team members were asked to defend their opinion and then had to switch sides. Chris would argue against the change from a sales perspective, and Michelle in the affirmative from a marketing perspective. Then the two would switch sides and continue the discussion. Ziob built a team that thrived. His employees said their leader created a learning environment where people could experiment, take risks and make mistakes. It allowed the team to make intelligent decisions in times of uncertainty.

Keep people focused on what can be controlled.

Team members often concentrate on what they can’t control, and that’s when anxiety grows. Part of effective leadership is about helping employees direct their attention to what they can impact. In one customer service team I visited, employees identified the company’s antiquated system for managing workflow as a pain point. They couldn’t keep up with demand and were frustrated. Despite that, the team achieved high marks for the quality of their work. The employees told us how appreciative they were of their leader. She coached her workers to accept that the system was slow. She redirected their attention to accuracy instead. Importantly, she absorbed flak from above and took accountability for the way she led her team. This helped the team establish workable timelines and motivated them to deliver for her; and at the end of each week, they celebrated quality successes. What this boss had her people practice is called “emotional acceptance.” She didn’t try to quash feelings of stress with positive thinking, which often just makes things worse. Instead, she restructured their to-do lists to give emphasis to what they could realistically master.

Communication is going to be key in building the workplaces of the future—no matter what they will look like. If leaders focus on communicating clearly and consistently, then no matter what’s going on, everyone can face uncertainty together—as a team.

About Adrian Gostick

Adrian Gostick provides real solutions on managing change, organizational culture, driving innovation, and leading high-performance teams.

Adrian Gostick is a global workplace expert and thought leader in the fields of corporate culture, leadership, and engagement. He is founder of the training and consulting company The Culture Works, and author of the #1 New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-sellers All In, The Carrot Principle and The Best Team Wins. His books have been translated into 30 languages and have sold 1.5 million copies around the world. His latest book Leading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results is already a best seller.

To learn more about Adrian Gostick contact [email protected]

Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency  www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]