Leaders: Beware the 4 Hidden “Jobs” Funded By Anxiety

Recently, I’ve been feeling a buttload of anxiety.

Nothing is particularly wrong. I’m just writing a book. Writing is challenging. It makes me anxious.

As a wise friend recently reminded me: Work Causes Anxiety.

If you don’t believe me, try this: Imagine for a minute that your ultimate dream job, the promotion that you have been steadily working towards, or whatever the next level is for you, is yours, and you’re starting tomorrow.

Uh hunh. Excitement, yes. But also, butterflies, nervousness, maybe even terror.

Anxiety: I define it as experiencing two distinct feelings at once (e.g. excited and afraid; nervous and resentful, etc.). It’s a natural response to feeling pressure.

As I’ve been coping with my anxiety about writing and watching the many creative ways I avoid it, I’ve been listening to leaders I work with talk about how anxiety shows up in the workplace.

What happens to the people you work with when they encounter work anxiety? Share on X

Beyond Procrastination

When people are under the gun, unless they are super clear on what their job is, they may unconsciously resort to four main default “jobs,” while what they are actually contracted to do takes a close, sometimes distant second.

If you are in a leadership position as an executive, manager or even in a coaching role, and you are not too consumed by your own anxiety, you will likely notice some of the following behavior patterns erupting from your employees, clients or teammates when the pressure mounts.

Four “Jobs” for Which Anxiety Writes the Paycheck

1) Competitor: Have you ever been shocked to see people go at each other in meetings when heated debates were the last thing there was really time for? Or been side-swiped by hostile questions in the middle of group sessions you think are going well? What about that ambitious employee who is suddenly telling the others what to do when that’s your job?

When things are on the cusp of true change, or during phases of enormous organizational growth, it’s common for people to manage their unconscious anxiety by competing with the leader, or each other. Rather than getting down to work, they decide it’s time to get down on the battlefield.

2) Chief of Staff: This one is always fun: When a client, employee or team member decides that his or her real job is to tell you how to do your job. “You really needed to tell us in advance we were going to have to stay late this week!” as if you could have known. “You know, I think it would be better if you organize the meetings in this way . . .”

This is not just a matter of feedback, which you, no doubt, as a well-schooled leader, try to be open to. As you are listening to their suggestions, it becomes clear that the content is of no real value, and they seem to be doling them out in droves. This is because they are avoiding their work by telling you how to do yours.

3) Helpless Babe: When you feel so swamped with putting out fires that you can’t get your work done, or when a client or teammate is asking you way more questions than they normally do — way more questions than you deem necessary — this is when an employee or client manages their anxiety by deciding that it’s your job to take care of them, or at least it’s their job to try to get you to. All of sudden it can appear like competency goes out the window; personal issues become paramount, and there are lots of pressing matters that they really need to talk to you about, right now.

4) Caregiver: Sometimes, when the heat is on, the players decide that their most important job is to take care of you. They are so kind!!! So considerate to suspend their work in the middle of it all to think of your wellbeing! “You must be stressed, can I book you an appointment with my massage therapist — he’s great!” “You probably need a break, don’t you?” “Hey we know things are intense right now, so we brought you a candy bar!”

And you’re a diabetic.

These behaviors as isolated incidents are not problematic, it’s when they are chronic and stress related that you as a leader want to keep an eye on them.

Paying attention to what happens to others during stressful times gives your leadership an advantage. Keeping these “jobs” in mind, you can better spot work anxiety (yours and theirs), and better help them with their stress — by offering them clarity, assistance, encouragement or additional skills —  and then guide them back to their work.

What are some other “jobs” you’ve seen created by anxiety? Do share in the comments section below.

Want to learn more about how to tighten the ship when these things happen? Stay tuned, Leadership Makeover is coming next week!

4 responses to “Leaders: Beware the 4 Hidden “Jobs” Funded By Anxiety”

  1. jane says:

    Peacekeeper as opposed to peacemaker. The peacekeeper agrees with everyone and sugar coats the facts to the point that the real issues unrecognizable and true status is unverifiable.

    Devils advocate that takes that role so seriously they become the devil – seeing every change as bad and sparks rumors that grow out of control. This person insidiously starts the dissention then walks away while the rest of the cast sits around feeding each others anger.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      These are such great additions. I have definitely seen the Peacekeeper and the Devils Advocate, which is a close cousin of the Competitor, as alternate jobs in the face of anxiety!
      Thanks for contributing here.

  2. Ramu Iyer says:

    As I emerge from the yoga studio in the morning, I am *super clear” what my job is (and mindful)!!! I emerge from the parking garage, go to my cubicle and open my inbox to see the large volume of unread email. I prioritize my attention to prepare and facilitate a meeting. I realize that my statement of work (SOW) has several scope creeping externalities, driven by outside forces, that interrupt my positivity and make me unconsciously anxious and transport me to a “non-yogi” state of incompetence. Taking cues from Blair’s blog posting, here is my checklist to bust the cops in the head (and avoid ‘SOW’ing these viruses):

    * Am I getting side-swiped by hostile questions in the middle of team meetings?
    * Am I being “mentored” by unsolicited commentary about how to do my job?
    * Is the self-appointed “Chief of Staff” ducking his personal accountability and outsourcing work to me (and telling me how to do mine)?
    * Am I in the “setup to fail syndrome by being reduced to being in a fire fighter?
    * When a team member thinks bravely and raises a looming issue that is an “elephant in the room”, the hawkish “Chief of Staff” deflects the issue by pressing that “let’s take that offline” or “put that in the parking lot”
    * The meeting evolves into a groupthink exercise aimed at editing the PowerPoint slide (which is mostly fluff) and stonewalling the critical business issue
    * Understanding a person’s point of view is orphaned in favor of the “PowerPoint” of view
    * The hawks who are dominant personalities don’t follow meeting groundrules, engage in multitasking and prefer to be distracted
    * The hawks arrest my improvisation during a meeting by mandating that “we meet after I have created a PowerPoint deck” to “align” and “level set” on this issue/topic (mostly euphemisms that are vacuous)

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Wow! Very comprehensive and hysterical, Ramu. What occurs to me as I read through checklist, is the questions: Where is your authority? What is absolutely important for the team to know whether or not the PowerPoint is well done? What is making them anxious? It may not be your job to entertain them with your PowerPoint. It may not be important that they like you, although they do need to treat you with respect. How can you guide them back to the task at hand gently, firmly, and with common purpose?

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