The Complexity of Change, Uncertainty, and Anxiety

Human beings don’t like uncertainty. Uncertainty brings with it a higher possibility of change, which humanity also doesn’t like. “The way it has always been” is a source of security and comfort; it quells our natural anxiety and makes life predictable. Change is difficult, because we unconsciously believe longevity equals good or best. The opposite of this, of course, is that new or different equals bad. This, in turn, increases our anxiety.

Remember as a kid when your parents loaded you up in the car for a trip? What were questions that usually erupted from the backseat?

  • Where are we going?
  • How long will it take to get there?
  • What are we doing when we get there?
  • Where are we staying?
  • What are we eating?
  • Are we there yet?

These questions weren’t asked because you were being annoying. No, you were uncertain, because there was a change in your daily routine, and you needed answers to calm your anxiety. In short, you wanted the unknown to become known.

The future is uncertain.

That’s the understatement of the decade, right? We can all quickly name at least a dozen uncertainties in our lives in this very moment—will I have a job next month? What are my kids doing for school? How long will we be working from home? Are we on the brink of a food shortage? The questions are endless, and our anxiety is increasing during the pandemic.

In an average year, 7% of U.S. adults have clinical depression and 18% suffer from clinical anxiety. However, this year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, rates have dramatically increased. Now, 33% of Americans show signs and symptoms of clinical depression, clinical anxiety, or both.

Depression and anxiety affects the workplace.

Because depression and anxiety affect people’s day-to-day lives, you can be guaranteed it is affecting how people work, how people feel about their work, and how motivated and engaged people are while at work. While leaders and managers cannot manage the mental health of employees, they can help ease some anxiety by focusing on three important areas of change leadership:

1. Focus on Clarity
2. Create Connection
3. Engage in Conversation

Uncertainty is everywhere, and no one has the answers. Even so, creating a work culture which values clarity, connection, and conversation will lead to employees feeling somewhat less anxious and more connected. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers to communicate with their employees; they just need to be human.

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