Over the past two years, as the election cycle ramped up to full speed and we voted for president, reports of increases in hospital and doctor visits increased. The cause? Political anxiety. Doctors have reported seeing more and more patients who are presenting with symptoms of depression, malaise, and anxiety that seem to be rooted in the national political discord.
Many of my readers work in people-driven organizations that rely on the productivity of minds and hearts. With this as our common work setting, these increases in anxiety are sure to be present and to pose a challenge for our leaders. From a neuroscience perspective, all of this anxiety and angst is suppressing our cognitive ability to have insights and work creatively with our colleagues. And while this basic premise of productivity drain should be addressed, I would offer that a larger issue is the way we manage the well-being of our people.
The American Bar Association recently released a groundbreaking report on the well-being of attorneys in the industry. Not to be overlooked were strong recommendations to address some of the most serious challenges the legal industry faces including addiction and depression. However, I was pleased to see a strong focus in the report on the need for greater civility. The ABA refers to this as “fostering collegiality and respectful engagement throughout the profession”.
It would appear that, in line with the public discourse, incivility is on the rise in the legal profession. I would be willing to bet that the law is not the only industry experiencing this trend.
This type of incivility is deeply connected to the anxiety being felt throughout our offices, bars, playgrounds, and sometimes, dining room tables. While it would be worthy to try to tackle all of these situations, for the purposes of time let’s look at this in a workplace setting. How can we address this anxiety and incivility in our teams without adding to the cyclone of negativity or overstepping the bounds of our workplace relationships?
The first step is a small one but a challenging one. We need to talk to our colleagues and have honest dialogue including active listening and questioning aimed at understanding not proving. This does not mean that we should all start prying into each other’s personal lives at work. Nor does it mean that our offices should become a place for open political debate. What I am suggesting is that we take the time to talk to our colleagues on a more involved level. Walk across the hall instead of emailing. Pick up the phone and engage in direct contact and conversation with each other.
We also need to be more aware of those around us. Are you watching for subtle cues that someone is in distress or feeling particularly drained? Do you know what resources your organization has to assist someone who needs more than you can offer or are comfortable offering? If you are in a position of leadership, you need to know these things and you must be watching and learning from your team so you can identify distress at the onset.
Additionally, and very much in line with the ABA report, we need to start modeling and engaging in holistic well-being at work. The de-stigmatization of self-care will be critical to balancing this emotional exhaustion with the work we do every day. If as a professional culture we continue to fight the war of “Busy, Busier, or Busiest” we will find ourselves with increasingly more anxiety and far less civility. We need to move our offices to a place where we can congregate towards common goals and missions. To do this we must put our own oxygen masks on first. Take care of ourselves in a visible manner so that we can take care of those around us.
You can find the full ABA report HERE.