Ndung’u came into work eagerly one Thursday morning excited for a calm day in the office to get caught up on some projects.
However, by 9am, a colleague called him letting him know that she was sick and could not come into the office that day, so he would have to meet a major client in the conference room at 10am along with the divisional vice president. Stunned by the sudden added responsibility for such a critical meeting thrust upon him, he hurriedly prepared for the meeting.
When 10am rolled around and Ndung’u began his presentation in front of both the major client and the firm’s executive, his hands trembled, his mouth felt dry, and his heart raced as he tried to proceed with the meeting.
Many of us can relate to Ndung’u’s feelings of anxiety in the workplace.
Anxiety can range from small worries about whether one signed and dated a routine form or locked their office to medium situations such as preparing for a departmental meeting or major large anxiety inducing scenarios that encompass one’s very own job security such as a biased performance review.
A research team led by Maria Melchior found that generalised work anxiety occurred at twice the frequency when staff, even young employees, work in high psychological job demand situations that can include extreme time pressures, abrupt deadlines, excessive workloads, and unpredictable work schedules.
The researchers narrowed down the cause as actually being high psychological job demands by statistically eliminating other possibilities such as the socioeconomic position of the employee or the job, negative personality tendencies, or past psychiatric disorders.
More than 30 per cent of workers report working in high psychological job demand scenarios.
Employers need to provide a two-pronged approach to work anxiety.
First, assist workers with psychological coaching on how to cope with work stress.
Second, reduce work stress levels by developing and implementing clear and consistent policies for supervisors, policies readily available for all employees to view, guidelines on realistic timelines for staff turnaround on tasks, and human resources audits of supervisor-employee interactions, workloads, and work hours.
Employees on the other hand also have a two-fold method to reduce work anxiety.
First, prior to accepting a job offer, ask to speak to two or three other employees who hold similar roles. Ask these employees job preview questions including working relationship questions about management-employee relations, timelines, and work hours.
A job seeker will get a more realistic picture of a workplace from a lateral employee rather than a human resources practitioner or supervisor who is trying to sell the candidate on the job.
Best practices in human resources dictates allowing job candidates access to job preview questions of existing staff once an offer has been extended and before a candidate must respond. If a prospective employer refuses a job preview request, then it should raise a red flag and you should seek employment elsewhere.
Second, once already on the job, keep track of the reliability and consistency of your firm’s and supervisor’s employee expectations and actions. If they are inconsistent to other workers, then they will be unreliable to you in the future.
Remember that it takes upwards of six months for a professional to secure other quality employment.
So, if you uncover unreliability and inconsistency, it will increase your future undesirable anxiety levels and you should start your exit planning early.