Fear of the unknown is a natural emotion that is part of being human. However, when ambiguity is encountered in the context of work, the effects can be damaging to performance.

According to recent research, “Uncertainty about a possible future threat disrupts our ability to avoid it or to mitigate its negative impact, and thus results in anxiety.” Unfortunately, anxiety is a very common problem, affecting most, if not all of us, from time to time.

Taking steps to reduce anxiety in the workplace is not just a nice gesture, but one that protects an organization’s bottom line. According to the World Health Organization, anxiety can have a detrimental effect, costing nearly $1 trillion in lost productivity worldwide.

However, despite our best efforts and good intentions, there is no way to avoid uncertainty altogether. When we find ourselves in a state of not knowing, it tends to be uncomfortable. In fact, it can be excruciating. Think about what it feels like to wait for the results of a performance review, or worry about the impact of a restructuring or layoff. In the workplace (and in our personal lives), we struggle where there are big unknowns.

According to a recent study by Gallup, ambiguity is one of the top five reasons for employee burnout. “Only 60% of workers can strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work.” The lack of clarity around expectations causes employees to feel drained. Clear communication between a manager and employee, in conjunction with transparency with regard to goals, can prepare your employees to handle challenges with confidence.

How Can Organizations Minimize the Anxiety that Results from Ambiguity?

Cultivating a Resilient Mind

A resilient mind has the capacity to respond to fast or disruptive changes that cannot be avoided. Building mind resilience helps your employees have the ability to adapt, manage stress, and handle challenges with agility and a growth mindset. Here are actionable steps your organization can take today to start impacting the performance of your people:

  1. Create psychological safety – Keep individuals in productive, creative mode, and out of reactive stress-based responses like fight, flight, or freeze.
  2. Train for emotional intelligence – Provide training on skills that bring self-awareness to employees, allowing them to recognize emotions in themselves as others as they arrive.
  3. Foster curiosity- Curiosity is one of the best ways to shift people from stress and fear-based responses to the more productive frontal lobe of the brain.
  4. Pay attention to clear communication – Reducing the unnecessary ambiguity that results from unclear communication and confusion will decrease the overall load of ambiguity employees have to manage.
  5. To encourage resilient minds, it’s important to pay attention to the work environment as well as to provide skills training for employees to learn to recognize and manage their own reactions.

Download our webinar, “The Triple-A Threat in the Workplace” to learn how to help employees build a habituated, protective shield through proven prevention techniques.