The Negative Network Effect: Stop the Spread of Workplace Anxiety

April 26, 2019 | Lucy English | meQuilibrium
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The weight of the world is heavy right now - from stressful headlines to apocalyptic entertainment, stress and anxiety are defining our experience around the globe. According to the APA’s latest survey, nearly 75% of Americans reported feeling a symptom of stress in the past month.

Not surprisingly, work was identified as a top stressor. Individual employees are carrying the weight of these stresses, and negativity spreads quickly across the workforce via the network effect.

What is a network effect? Information and sentiment spread quickly through social networks at work and beyond. A relatively small number of incidents can change the environment in a workplace quickly, sending people into counterproductive loops of fear and anxiety which grow and are reinforced socially.

When a situation in the workplace or the world at large plants anxiety, and employees are not well equipped to manage their thoughts and emotions, anxiety, fear, and negativity can grow exponentially.

Resilience enables employees to keep their heads in the game, but also empowers them with the emotional and mental capacity to rise to the top, unleashing their full potential. In a recent interview with Fortune, Beth Ford, CEO of Land of Lakes said resilience is key to her success.

Building a resilient mind means developing the skills to identify and address the core thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that drive stress and anxiety.  As we all face volatility, uncertainty and rapid change, our first line of defense is to be able to manage our own reactions and make healthy choices about our behavior.  Here are the three steps to addressing anxiety by improving your mind’s resilience:

  1. Measure: Identify your thinking habits including your habitual “cognitive mistakes” like worst-case thinking, emotional reasoning, or a tendency to overgeneralize.  Learn your emotional style, or “go-to” emotion. Is it anger? Frustration? Anxiety?   Knowing your own patterns is the first step to change.
  2. Address: Once we establish the ability to identify thoughts and feelings, we then have the option to pause and consider the most productive response. For example, someone who tends toward anger, upon recognizing the feeling arising, learns to pause, and consider whether getting angry is a productive response, or whether there may be a different way to approach the situation that would be healthier and more productive.
  3. Prevent: When individuals recognize their own habitual patterns and begin to manage stress in healthier ways, healthier behavior and interactions spread, in what we can consider a positive network effect. We become better equipped in our interactions, even under stress, and better able to support one another.

When organization leaders have intelligence on the kinds of (typically) hidden obstacles their employees are facing, they are better able to help address issues at the organizational level. For example, if the CEO knows that most employees tend toward worst-case thinking, he or she will communicate in a way that takes this into account, helping individuals to dial back from their fears and see the situation more clearly.

It’s critical for workplace leaders to model resilience, to understand the internal obstacles people face when they get stuck in unhealthy patterns, and to invest in training so that employees can improve their minds-thinking and emotion, and thereby prevent the spread of anxiety that could create a toxic workplace culture.

To learn more watch our recent webinar, The Triple A Threat to Productivity: Anxiety, Anger, and Aggression in the Workplace, hosted by HCI and featuring meQuilibrium CEO and Co-founder Jan Bruce.