Can You Reduce Workplace Neurosis?

Being neurotic isn’t all bad if it keeps you working hard and delivering on your deadlines. But it can be counter-productive when it makes you feel so nervous you become overwhelmed and stop working. Or when it makes you believe you have enemies you really don’t.

A post in The Muse by Lea McLeod reminded me that workplace paranoia may have its place (it’s been said you may be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone following you), but it’s also harmful. “Of all the things that can make you worry at work, some of the worst are the problems you create. This is especially true when negative things happen and you find yourself waiting for them to happen again,” McLeod writes.

I’ve possessed workplace paranoia myself, and have been victimized by it. As I’ve written in the past, a few jobs ago, I endured a manager who was convinced I was working against her. She considered me a competitor rather than a helper. It’s a shame because her paranoia turned into a self-fulfilling prophesy, and while I never actively worked against her, I also didn’t go out of my way to help her, and enjoyed pushing her buttons (to be honest).

I’ve been told the manager I have now is paranoid, and that’s why he doesn’t want to give me recognition for a job well done. The other manager I confided in told me my assessment was probably correct that he doesn’t want to give me recognition because he feels it would undercut his own “accomplishments.” It would show there was a valuable person working under him—a person who’s being paid much less and may be worth much more. Does that make him paranoid to think that, or does that make him realistic?

My own paranoia arose in my last job, when I worked for Training. When I first arrived in fall 2005, I became convinced that the crazy manager I just left (the one who was convinced I was her enemy) had tried to sabotage my new work relationships by using an acquaintance who worked at Training’s old parent company to spread false rumors about me. She was so under-handed and vicious, that when I felt people were acting unfriendly toward me, I worried that she had somehow gotten to them ahead of me. It sounds crazy now to think I actually believed she did this, but at the time, it seemed plausible. It must have made me act strangely nervous and self-conscious toward just the people I wanted to win over.

Neurosis in the workplace is easy to cultivate because most of us rely on our workplace for financial sustenance. A workplace, if you’re lucky, also provides emotional fulfillment, but most importantly, if you’re a non-heiress, or otherwise not already taken care of financially, it’s the way you pay for all the things you need to survive. With so much at stake, it’s hard not to let little things make you nervous that this financial sustenance is going to be taken away. It’s also nerve-wracking to think you’re being held in place and may not advance in position or money. The cost of living is only going to go up, barring an unforeseen catastrophic disaster, so if your salary isn’t keeping pace with your additional expenses, you’ll soon be in trouble. Similarly, the workplace is competitive, with new geniuses coming into it every year, so if you’re not building your skills and advancing in your position, you soon could be obsolete and in danger of termination.

Trainers cultivating new managers can help reduce workplace neurosis by offering each employee a performance review at least once a year that’s checked by Human Resources and the head of each manager’s department. It’s no good to just require performance reviews that no one other than the employee reads or cares about. A couple people beyond the manager need to read and think about each employee’s performance review, both what the employee wrote and what the manager wrote about the employee.

It also helps to require a written and discussed employee development plan that’s checked in on and altered as needed at each performance review. The plan would state what the employee’s goals are (what position or new responsibilities they are hoping to advance to) and how they expect their salary to keep pace with the accomplishments they are working toward. Some managers (like my own), and even department heads (like my own) will avoid performance reviews because they don’t want to be accountable for developing employees, or for giving employees an outlet to discuss salary increases. If there’s no additional person reviewing the performance review, such as a Human Resources representative, the employee is powerless—and liable to become anxious and frustrated.

From an organizational perspective, workplace neurosis could lead employees who are doing a good job—and actually are highly valued by the company—to jump ship. They may have no other way of dealing with that sinking feeling they have inside.

What can you do as a Learning professional to help reduce workplace neurosis?

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