Reducing Anxiety in Organisations: Solution-Oriented Programs

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By Adj. Prof. Mike Conway, Founder & CEO of XVenture

Over the last twelve months I have had deep and meaningful discussions with a number of senior executives and leaders all who have referred to a major challenge emerging in their organisations. The challenge relates to the high levels of anxiety and overwhelm of many of their staff.

Anxiety is the most common mental disorder (Australian Bureau Statistics) and at some point in life we will all experience it in some shape or form. Under usual conditions, it can act as a stimulant to help us complete things, however, consistent and continuous anxiety can affect many parts of our life, not least are our relationships both at home and at work and then ultimately our ability to perform at the level we should be able to or required to.

The NAB Australian Well being Index confirmed that anxiety is at a new high as people worry about the cost of living, whether they can get good health care and whether they can keep their jobs.

"Anxiety is still the biggest detractor of personal well being for a significant proportion of Australians, with around 38% rating their anxiety levels as 'very high'," says NAB Chief Economist Alan Oster.

Business Insider Australia : Chris Pash January 2015

Our brain has an almost irrevocable power to draw us into emotional responses to the activities that come our way throughout our busy lives. Juggling busy family lives, busier travel to and from work, diaries chockablock bursting with meetings and constant texts and emails. Add to that regular organizational restructures and we've not even touched on any personal life matters yet! No wonder many are overwhelmed and providing the typical opener to everyone they meet - "sorry I'm really busy!" or "I'm out of control!" What is fascinating about such comments is that the deliverer of the message isn't aware of the impact that message could have on the receiver. Is it being delivered to gain a response of concern, or acknowledgement of importance or a way to keep people at bay?

The communication skill set we have and use can have a dramatic effect on how life turns out for us. Get it right and life can be truly wonderful. Get it wrong and it can spiral us out of control, affecting many parts of our life to our detriment.

When asked, most people believe they are good communicators. After all, we've all been involved in it since we were born! However, if we are so good at communicating, how is it that we have so much anxiety and relationship challenges in our lives. Michael Yapko draws attention to this in his landmark work 'depression is contagious' which shows the inextricable link between failures and breakdowns in in communication, relationships and anxiety, depression and medication. One in ten Americans are now on antidepressants. Forty million anti-depressant drugs were prescribed in the UK in 2012 and in Australia the levels have doubled in the last decade making it the second highest prescriber in OECD countries. (2013)

My most recent work with individuals (at XV121) and teams (XVenture Challenge), suggests that despite us believing we are effective and our best efforts we are nowhere near the 100% that we pride ourselves being. Add the complexity of a large corporation, and a life as described then if we're achieving 50% we are doing ok! (Approximately 15% of a workforce are on the move each year.) Add a further 10% as they are disengaged for a period before and prior to a move. Add a level of anxiety for the rest of the workforce, we're now at 50%!

In recent months it has been good to see some organisations including Google and ANZ bank recognizing such matters and not only working as most do on the formal policies and procedures companies must obviously undertake, but also investing in time and effort on offering their staff tools and techniques for dealing with this fast paced changing world. Mindfulness and art therapies are now emerging in mainstream and these are delivering some exciting results.

From our work at XVenture, we have seen such benefits. As important as anything is the encouragement of individuals to spend time to reflect on their situation, acknowledge aspects that are not working for them, identify what they want to change and learn and embed new steps on how to implement new ways of living and working. This seems on the face of it obvious and logical. The tricky part is, as Dr Steve Peters shares in his work 'The Chimp Paradox' that under pressure and when overly stressed, our emotional side of the brain leads us. It is so powerful that unless we are highly trained and self aware we typically respond to much activity around us with a fight, flight or freeze mentality. Take the NAB analysis described earlier and our decision-making is undertaken through such a lens.

In recent months we have started to introduce several organisations to solutions oriented approaches. These are delivered where needed in association with emotional intelligence and experiential learning concepts. The aim is to deepen the impact mindfulness and reflective techniques can have for an individual, providing them with tools to shift their behaviour and more effectively deal with high levels of anxiety. What has emerged is a new 'sense of purpose' model where some organisations are beginning to see the benefits of a deeper connection between the Company 'Sense of purpose' with an individual's.

Some of this is not new. Semler was innovating in this way at Semco, Brazil in the 90s. What is new, though is acknowledging, identifying and applying modern techniques for workers to cope with the chaotic World we live in. This requires a greater degree of openness and honesty and requires us to relinquish many of our hidden fears. Apply these techniques, and maybe we have a chance to get those low percentages of efficiency and effectiveness up. Perhaps not at the 100% mark, but certainly closer.

About Mike Conway

Originally a background in healthcare working with EY and Deloitte, Mike is the Founder and CEO of XVenture, an Adjunct Professor at MGSM and clinically trained hypnotherapist. His corporate life includes executive work experience in more than 20 countries with some of the world's best companies, and high-profile, high-performing individuals. His passion is using an integrated approach to support individuals and teams to become the best they can be. Feel free to contact Mike via LinkedIn to find out more or see

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