In our new book Anxiety at Work, we found one of the nastier sides of anxiety is making smart, capable people feel insecure and question their abilities. My coauthors Adrian Gostick, Anthony Gostick, and I interviewed dozens of employees, and most of them said they feel anxiety about how they're doing in their jobs. People want to know what their managers think about their work, and they have a future in the organization. Interestingly, high-performing employees often misread the lack of attention from their leader as a sign that things are not good at all.
Cicero called gratitude "not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others."
In an uncertain world, managers can reduce anxiety by offering sincere gratitude for great work—and being specific about how it helped the team. It's interesting that when people feel like their manager has faith in them, they can take constructive conversations much easier. They also realize when there is a problem, it's not about them. There is a problem, but they are not the problem.
Great leaders we've studied don't offer up general praise like, 'good job' 'great job' – the fact is, if you can say it to your dog, it's probably not genuine gratitude. I'm talking about leaders who offer gratitude with sincerity and specificity. When people are shown sincere gratitude, neurotransmitters in their brain send out dopamine and serotonin and contribute to their good mood. How great is that? Just by practicing heartfelt gratitude, leaders can create a physiological superhighway, so to speak, to happiness on their teams.
This is important because anxiety can make anyone feel like a fake. Imposter syndrome rears its ugly head when praise from managers and peers doesn't match up with what they're feeling inside, and they are just waiting for people to find out that they're not what they're cracked up to be.
Imposter syndrome can happen to anyone and often shows up in celebrities. A great example is the fantastic Bruce Springsteen's autobiography Born to Run, which tells the story of his lifelong battle with self-doubt and feeling like a "complete fake." Lady Gaga, who seems to be the personification of confidence, openly discusses her anxiety. She's said, "I still sometimes feel like a loser kid in high school, and I just have to pick myself up and tell myself that I'm a superstar every morning so that I can get through this day and be for my fans what they need me to be."
Dr. Alex Korb, a neuroscientist at UCLA, explained that people who worry all the time about negative outcomes become wired to focus on nothing but the negative. The good news, he also says people can't focus on the positive and negative at the same time. When we focus on showing gratitude, we can help our team members rewire and focus on positive emotions and thoughts and reduce anxiety.
One of the best ways leaders can lower anxiety is to have an attitude of gratitude in their organizations, peer-to-peer and top-down. We visited a hospital one Friday and were fortunate to be part of a special meeting. Each week a staff member receives the Grace Under Fire trophy, funny because it is an actual fire hose mounted on a block of wood. This peer-to-peer award is always brought out to applause and laughter. It's their way of recognizing something great that one of the team has done during the week.
We watched a nurse nominate her co-worker who had covered one of her weekend shifts. As eight hours morphed into twelve hours in the busy ER, her peer always kept their cool. This Friday ritual adds fun, puts everyone in a great mood, and strengthens relationships. It's quick and informal, yet it reinforces what the staff members value the most, keeping calm under pressure while helping each other. And the great snacks made it that much more fun.
Ideas like this are wonderful ways to recognize individual contributions. Some managers like to take the whole team out to lunch once a month, and that's a nice thing to do, but it's not recognition; it's a celebration. High achievers like to know their work is valued, and the team reward can create anxiety because they're not having their contributions recognized. Personal recognition and team celebrations are essential but have different roles in building high-performing teams.
The last word: Gratitude done right is an anxiety reliever and can be oxygen that fuels engagement for team members—especially high achievers who can be gratitude sponges. What are some amazing ways you like to reward both individual and group contributions in your teams?
This article was first published on Chester Elton's LinkedIn.
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