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Stress and anxiety at work

Nowadays I work in a great company and a fantastic team where I fully enjoy my eight hours of work but this subject of stress and anxiety at work became my passion and I dedicate a chapter about it in my book after a good research and interviewing a good number of people from different backgrounds.

... Why people despite feeling drained and unhappy at work still continue in their jobs?

We spend many hours there, in fact much of our waking time during the day is spent in the office or workplace. Our time there needs to be pleasant, even joyful, and fun, otherwise a toxic environment affects our health. The most important thing is that our work is in many cases the root of our anxiety or depression...but why? Could be a bad manager, a difficult coworker, a subordinate, customers that shout at you or even chaotic processes.

The reality is that when something annoys us at work we don't stop thinking about it when we go home.

Companies above a certain size do not operate on a human scale, and humans within them are not human but production units, cogs in the wheel – not part of a tribe, not expected to feel, or to think outside of the requirements of the job. Even business jargon like 'thinking outside the box' still requires you be a neuron in the brain of the machine. Not, as many would love to do, to jump out of the box and run free.

In the UK and other Northern European countries if you look at the buildings – even the campuses – that host the human worker ants, you see clearly that the efficiency that drives them is not the efficiency of worker well-being. No views, no windows, no center.

In America, a blog in the Huffington Post reported 62% of Americans as unhappy in their jobs. Something is wrong when there is so much workplace and social malaise, but can it be fixed? Mitch Ditkoff, the management consultant writing the piece, thinks so. He recommends for example collaborative rather than competitive environments, mutual respect, and face to face rather than email communications – which, when you think about it, is not that different to how neighbors have to get on to avoid endless disputes.

The high level of anxiety and depression in today’s work environment is pushing for a new paradigm. Slowly there are more and more people talking about the need to humanize our jobs, and to make work environments the correct “Ecology” for humans.

Simon Sinek, an expert about good leadership says that senior staff are not at the top, somewhere in the roof, but they are the floor. They are the foundations that provide security to the employees. They are the ones that should create trust, security, confidence and guidance, which is the core of leadership.

"But I'm just doing my job" Some people use this excuse to justify unacceptable behaviors and they act like the religious leader who uses God to justify a dark behavior or the police who shoot someone unarmed. We must accept the cost of our actions and recognize that every bad step we make has a side effect, not only with the clients but also and above all with colleagues. If you get away with something bad, it doesn’t mean that it won’t hit somewhere else.

Reed Hasting, the CEO of Netflic speaks about the “High performing jerks”, those people who have connections in the right places, they bring good results in the short term but destroy teams in the long run or push top talents to leave. He says "Some companies tolerate them. For us, the cost to effective teamwork is too high."

When companies don’t act in time, they reinforce and validate bad behaviors that in the long term create a toxic environment for many others, because it creates fear and mistrust, negative feelings from which positive things never emerge. Of course if you plant weeds you won’t harvest strawberries.

Brene Brown, a great American author speaks in her book "The Power of Vulnerability" about shame and fear. How those two emotions can create vulnerability in every human being, which some people take advantage of it. Many managers operate in a conflict/fear manner. They govern by knowing people’s weaknesses, humiliating or shaming people with sarcasms. It is very difficult to have innovation in this type of environment because obviously everybody is scared of presenting ideas and exposing themselves to the bullets.

By reading this great researcher and author I learned that we are all vulnerable, without distinction. You are vulnerable when you are poor but also when you become rich, when you have a bad reputation, but also when you have prestige, when you trust, when you are driving your car, when you are standing next to the road. Because we can’t ever control many events, we are equally vulnerable.

Stress and anxiety at work can lead people to desperation and depression, because we need to work, we all have bills to pay, and can feel trapped. This increases our vulnerability and can lead us to tolerate bad or unfair situations but companies need to ensure that their employees have the correct ecology to work in, and feel good and flourish. To have a good work environment is a human right according again to Simon Sinek.

There is a new discipline now called Epigenetics, that looks at how our environment can trigger some diseases.

Companies need to create an environment where people can speak about issues without feeling vulnerable. That in itself can reduce gossip and rumors. They should monitor the behavior of managers and subordinates at all levels, and interview employees on why they are leaving the company. They should train every manager in human skills, teach them how to listen, how to motivate, create trust and a collaborative environment and make sure that senior staff are accountable for their actions, as much as someone working at reception. At the end vulnerability and empathy are there for social adaptation and to identify who is inadequate or with a dysfunctional character that might create fear and anxiety in others and destroy teams.

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