Workplace

May 16, 2014

Performance anxiety creates insecurity

Most American workers are less worried about losing their jobs, but there’s plenty of worry about getting their work done and doing it well enough to please their bosses.

The spring 2014 cover story in The Conference Board Review, headlined “Performance Anxiety,” addresses a theme I hear often from workers.

People are less afraid of losing their jobs but more afraid they’re not meeting expectations. With fewer co-workers, they’ve been assigned more to do, they can’t do it all, and they’re not clear about what’s most important and what’s less important for them to do.

In a wide-ranging article, senior editor Vadim Liberman notes that repeated workforce “reshuffling” and the fast pace of change, particularly in information technology, are challenging workers to keep up, much less excel.

“When your employer plays pinball with your career, bumping you between positions, springing new tasks on you and stripping you of others, the fatigue alone makes it hard to strike targets,” he writes. “By the time you figure out the game, the corporate pinball machine will send you rolling in a new direction. Then your employer wonders why your performance isn’t where it should be, when actually it’s exactly where it should be.”

Liberman makes it clear that the burden is on both management — to clarify goals and expectations — and employees — to be adaptive and juggle their time well and quickly.

That requires strong communication between executives and midlevel managers and between managers and the people who report to them. All workers and managers must understand their roles and how they fit in the big picture.

That’s the best-practice advice. Too often, though, ordinary performance anxiety, “a powerful performance enhancer,” is overshadowed by unsustainable stress when workers feel like pinballs, Liberman says.

He shares a partial solution: “The simplest way to boost confidence and engagement is to ask people for their opinions, something few managers do enough.”

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