How to kill the ‘dread of work’ in your office

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Many Australians dread going to work on a Monday.

Some may have not found their dream vocation, but a vast number are going to work for organisations that operate with a culturally entrenched fear of punishment.

Unrealistic deadlines and micromanagement are the source of dread. From the countless organisations I’ve worked with, people in these environments are too afraid to voice their concerns and doubts.

The Resilience Institute’s three-year study of 16,000 people in 251 companies found that the level of worry sits around 30% and the work environment is assessed as intense by 80% of staff.

When people are afraid to voice their concerns, the result is often lost productivity, high staff turnover, absenteeism, distress and burnout.

New ideas rarely surface as they are shot down before they get off the starting block. Projects that are destined for failure are not highlighted by concerned parties, and growing resentment can affect the health of staff.

Pinpointing the problem

A great way of determining whether a culture is fear-based is to observe how failure is handled. Is the culprit punished or encouraged to learn and adapt? This is largely influenced by the leadership style of the CEO and direct reports, who set the tone. They choose whether to lead with compassion (high-trust, sometimes tough love, high respect for individuals) or with indifference, contempt, sympathy or antipathy.

Poor leadership skills that contribute to this toxic environment include micromanaging task completion, punishing staff for failure, a lack of empathy and setting up an environment of contempt – Us versus Them (car parks, titles, exclusion).

I’ve worked with many business leaders who felt so incapable of being “wrong” that they concealed any faults and flaw, presuming that showing any weakness would damage their image and threaten their position. A strong leader is one that can embrace change, accept and overcome challenges and own their imperfection as a strength.

A lack of empathy in leadership can also be fatal to a company. Resilient leadership begins with emotional intelligence, humility and respect. Leaders need to be able to have compassionate conversations with staff, understanding their position.

Building a trust-based culture

Empathy starts with a curiosity about others, active listening, tuning in to non-verbal queues, openness to diversity and the ability to see the perspective of others, while compassion takes the bigger picture into account.

The compassionate leader creates a calm culture; not breeding fear through punishment of performance gaps. Performance gaps are viewed as learning and coaching opportunities.

The compassionate leader appreciates the talents of their team members and seeks to liberate their potential. Individuals with a poor fit may be assisted to find their passion in other roles or organisations.

A leader’s expression of compassion requires courage, strong self-belief and the absence of an obsessive need for affiliation.

To see an end to the “command and control” style of leadership, we need to begin by encouraging trust-based cultures, and educating executive teams around resilience and effective leadership. Businesses should look to adopt a values-based models (care, innovation, can-do) rather than purely an output-based model (revenue, costs).

In a trust-based culture, staff are encouraged and rewarded for having a contrary opinion; conflict is resolved with courageous, compassionate conversations not sympathetic avoidance, and coercion or contempt and information is as transparent as possible and acceptable. Leaders are honest, their actions match their promises, they use their power respectfully, admit to their mistakes and outline a remedy and operate for the greater good.

If you’re dreading going to work, assess whether it is the nature of your job or the environment that is truly causing distress.

If it is the environment, get clear on what you’re prepared to accept and where you can push back. Working on your personal resilience and self-confidence will give you the coping mechanisms to adjust to change and the ability to thrive in a difficult situation. Maintain strong lifestyle practices, valuing your health through adequate sleep, good nutrition, exercise and meditation.

To get your health and self-esteem back on track, try exercising and meditating each day, even if just for a brief period. The act of making this small commitment to yourself can help, whether it is for five minutes or an hour.

Going to sleep at a regular time each night and averaging 7-8 hours sleep will help reset your body clock and give you the best chance at productivity and general wellbeing.

Learn to delegate or say no when your plate is full and manage your time effectively by working in time blocks and getting up to move your body through the day.

Most importantly, make time for the people and activities you enjoy in your life, no matter what you have on.

Stuart Taylor is the managing director at The Resilience Institute and author of “Assertive Humility – Emerging from the Ego Trap”.