People are feeling burnt out. They feel overwhelmed and worried with too much to do and fewer resources to do them. Sometimes their worry doesn’t have a specific focus, it simply has become an all-encompassing, global anxiety. Without concrete skills to manage these challenges, their brains form negative behavior patterns and bad habits that negatively affect their mental and emotional health, and their performance, leading to burnout.
But there is hope. By developing concrete skills to manage these challenges and building resilience in what we call the Last 8% (defined below) individuals can regain control over their lives and navigate these stressors more effectively. Individuals also can find comfort in the burgeoning science of how to manage anxiety. It starts by understanding how the brain responds to pressure and uncertainty and then learning concrete skills and strategies to manage emotions and the mind more effectively.
Understanding the Brain’s Response to Pressure and Uncertainty
When faced with pressure and uncertainty, the human brain has a natural tendency to activate the fight-or-flight response—an instinctive reaction designed to protect us from perceived threats. However, in our modern lives, this response can become overactive and misaligned with the actual level of stressors we’re facing. This chronic activation of the stress response can lead to anxiety, reduced cognitive function, and even physical health issues. Understanding this process is crucial in developing effective strategies to manage anxiety and build resilience.
Developing Work-Related Skills and Strategies
While many organizations acknowledge the growing levels of disengagement and burnout, most frequently fall short in addressing them. To maintain growth and development, organizations must create pathways to seek help, promote work-life balance, and build emotional resilience. All of these lend themselves to a more sustainable working model focused on productivity, collaboration, and well-being.
According to the World Health Organization, even before COVID-19, the global stress epidemic was costing the world at least $1 trillion annually just in measurable areas such as absenteeism, and likely even more in innovation and creativity.
To combat this, workplace mental health best practices should be integrated into all elements of a company’s operating model, including its organizational culture, by bringing together deep organizational design and change expertise. Taking such action can significantly bolster employee well-being and job satisfaction, and has been shown to be good for business as international research estimates a return of 4.25x return on investment for every dollar spent.
According to Gallup, workplace burnout is reduced to near zero among engaged, high-well-being employees who also work in a culture that honors individual strengths.
Employee Value Proposition
The Gallup State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report found that only 21 percent of employees feel engaged at work.
Organizations realize putting an emphasis on the employee experience (EX) and organizational culture pays off. Comparing companies with a defined strategy to transform EX with those that don’t have a defined strategy in place, the report found EX-focused companies saw a 35 percent increase in employee engagement. They were also 90 percent more likely to report lower annual turnover than their industry peers, and 2.7 percent higher productivity than their industry peers.
This shows that a great EX and organizational culture strategy can help reduce employee anxiety and burnout, leading to increased collaboration and higher productivity.
Managing Anxiety in The Last 8%
The most important way to build resilience and manage anxiety is during what we’ve come to call the Last 8%. What does that mean? Our research has found that most people do well at the first 92% of a situation, decision, or conversation, but as a conversation or a decision gets more difficult, when there is more on the line and things get emotional, most people either get paralyzed and avoid the Last 8%, or handle it in a way that has a negative impact on other people—in other words, they make a mess of it. This, in turn, can create further anxiety and mental health issues.
Examples of Last 8% moments that cause significant anxiety for people include:
- Giving someone difficult feedback
- Receiving criticism and feedback
- Taking a risk to try something new
- Dealing with change and uncertainty
- Making a decision not everyone will like
- Giving a public presentation
- Speaking up to someone in authority
At the heart of what causes people to avoid or make a mess of their Last 8% situations, decisions, or conversations are emotions. Strong emotions, such as fear and anxiety, naturally arise when we engage in, or even think about, Last 8% situations.
However, when we train people to manage their emotions and take action on their Last 8%, they feel like a ton of weight has been lifted off their shoulders. They stop spending hours ruminating, over and over again, about a difficult situation, decision, or conversation that causes anxiety, stress or burnout. They also are viewed differently by others, and their external reputation improves. People see them as more ready to take on new challenges the organization faces, and they are given the most important projects. Of course, they also feel differently about themselves as resilience builds over time. They know they were courageous and did the right thing, and this builds their confidence.
This is what is possible when we’re aware and have the Emotional Intelligence skills to take on our Last 8% situations. It is not necessarily the easier path, and it can cause us more short-term anxiety, but over the long term, people come to view their Last 8% moments as opportunities to grow and excel, not something anxiety-provoking to be avoided.
Tools to Support Employees
Anxiety, stress, and burnout have become prevalent in our fast-paced, resource-limited world. The good news is that individuals can take charge of their mental and emotional well-being by developing concrete skills and strategies to manage emotions in their Last 8% moments—both in their personal and work lives.
In the modern workplace, employee well-being is a critical factor in maintaining a high-performance culture. Providing skills for people to perform in their Last 8% moments recognizes the importance of employee well-being and gives organizations the tools to support their employees and help them and their teams thrive and drive performance.