I hope you’re ok! As Orange Squid’s resident Organisational Psychologist, I’ve been having so many conversations about how to work and lead (and feel!) better during these times of uncertainty, I thought it could be helpful to share some of the strategies with you; and to inject you with a bit of psychology.
Anxiety levels have certainly been on the rise, which makes sense as anxiety is our response to stress. It is the fear of what might happen in the future. And for a lot of us, things have been stressful!
It’s helpful to recognise this, because dealing with and/or leading people through times of anxiety takes some adjustment.
Here are some strategies you can use.
Anxiety’s side effects (I’m looking at you, irritability)
One of the unfortunate (but very common) side effects of anxiety is irritability. We typically ‘save’ this irritability for those who are emotionally closest to us, but in these unprecedented times, irritability at work has become increasingly common. As is often the case, unprecedented times require unprecedented measures.
- Dealing with irritability on a personal level: Do you notice yourself snapping more and having much less tolerance for stress and even minor frustrations? Remind yourself that how you feel, how you think, and how you behave, are not necessarily an all-in-one deal. Change just one of those things, for example your behaviour (your response to others) regardless of how you feel and think, and the rest will eventually follow. You have more control than you think!
- Dealing with irritability in your team or organisation as a leader: Are people in your team irritable and harder to deal with? Be kind. Remind yourself that anxiety could be at the core of this behaviour, and have compassion. Role model openness (if you’re open about having had a bad day then you open the door for others) and ask your people how they are feeling. Remember that every single person in your team has their own story. Listening and recognising that will make you a better leader. Bringing humanness, and even a bit of fun back into the team (if appropriate – you’ve got to read the room here) increases our tolerance and empathy for each other, and increases engagement.(Running low on ideas on how to do the fun bit when you’re managing a team remotely? Flick a message to Astrid, she never runs out).
Anxiety & decision making
The impact of anxiety on decision making has been researched a lot. And the results are clear: anxiety and making high quality decisions do not go hand in hand. A common response to anxiety is to catastrophise (obsessing about the worst possible outcome) which then in itself can lead to increased anxiety. This can become so overwhelming that you freeze, and are therefore unable to make any real decisions and move forward at all.
We don’t all catastrophise of course. But even for those of us who don’t, increased stress and anxiety is proven to reduce our cognitive ability. It temporarily makes us less smart, and impacts the quality of our decisions (and our creativity!) in a negative way.
- Making better decisions on a personal level: Anxiety can be a debilitating, lonely place. And more often than not, the more anxious we get, the more stuck we get in our own heads. Ask for help. And remember that help doesn’t necessarily mean advice. Sometimes all we need is someone who listens; someone calm. If you can manage to lower your anxiety levels, it will be easier for you to know what to do.
- Making quality decisions as a leader: Don’t fall in the ‘decision freeze’ trap. If you notice yourself only able to focus on what’s right in front of you, and you are making decisions based on what you don’t want to happen, instead of what you do want to happen, then stop yourself. Don’t be led by your anxiety. This is the time to pivot your strategy, set some clear goals for your team and/or the organisation, adapt and move forward. And be clear and transparent about what these goals are. This is the time to communicate lots, be authentic and create some certainty for your people in uncertain times. It will decrease anxiety levels for everyone.
Anxiety & mental health
There has been some focus on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, and rightly so. Whether it is anxiety, loneliness or any other feeling related to the impact of this pandemic, it has never been more important to put people, wellbeing and mental health first.
- Your own personal wellbeing: If you google ‘wellbeing’ or ‘mental health’ there are many strategies you can find that can help you. Get some exercise, meditate, connect with friends, try to make time to do whatever works for you. Interestingly, research shows that if you also focus on helping others, this actually improves your own emotional wellbeing. I love that idea. Human connection has never been more important. Reach out and help; it’ll make everyone feel better.
- Driving wellbeing as a leader: during times of change, it’s important to take a close look at your culture. Is your culture setting you up for success? Does the mental health and wellbeing of your people sit at the core of what you do? This is the time to put people first. And that’s includes you. The biggest trap I see leaders fall into is that they focus on taking care of everyone else, but forget about themselves. Don’t fall into this trap and burn out. And don’t forget that your behaviour has a huge impact on the culture of your organisation. If you never take a break, you work relentlessly and don’t discuss how you manage your (mental) health, then don’t expect anyone in your organisation or team to behave any differently. As any good airline safety briefing will tell you, be sure to put the oxygen mask on yourself first.
If there’s anything I/we can help with, drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org