• Eve Arnold

Worry — An Oddity in the Workplace

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash


Worry in the workplace. 

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

Cue worrying all night. Waking up the next morning and it was meeting I’d been dreading. Not because I knew what to expect. It was because of the exact opposite. If you are new to the world of work it adds another dimension to worry about… the unknown. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never been in this ‘type’ of meeting before. I knew there were ‘important people’, I knew it was in one of those fancy meeting rooms. But apart from that I was pretty blind.

We worry a lot. We worry about money, family, friends but very frequently we work about work. Unfortunately we worry about what to say in that meeting, how that senior person might view us, whether our work is good enough. Or rather, whether we are good enough.

I worried incessantly as a kid. I would worry about getting told off, about not getting high marks in the test, about not knowing the answers. And of course when I moved into the world of work the worrying continued.

There was a small study done where by 2000 people were asked how frequently they worry. Turns out it’s a lot. 6.5 years in total across the group. Another article reported that us humans spend 5 whole years of our lives worrying.

History – Worry in the Workplace

Why do we worry so much? Well, according to Leonard Martin, a social physcologist, it’s because of the agricultural revolution. Rewind about 10,000 years ago, for the first time in our lives we’d move from hunter gathers to planners. We weren’t simply thinking day-to-day, about what we could catch and kill. Instead we would spend time planning our crops. Thinking about the best time to plant and then when the crops were planted, we would think about what could cause a problem to the crops. Pests, weather, people. Our mindset had started shift. To become people that think about future events, to think ahead and plan today based on that. Sound familiar? All of a sudden we moved from just thinking about the day to thinking about weeks, even months in advance. And that’s no different to where we are now. We worry over things that are potentially going to happen in the future.

Although we have goals. Ambitions. Hopes for our future. And most of the time we worry about never getting there. Not meeting our expectations of ourselves.

To make things worse or better (depending on your view), according to a study, 85% of the stuff we worry about never happens. And of that 15% that does happen, 79% is better than we thought. What brilliant news. We worry loads, most of it doesn’t happen anyway and it’s all because we started being proactive and planting crops.

The likelihood of the thing you are worrying actually happening from www.careerhealth.info


Enter the working world.

The Working World – Worry

Starting the world of work is pretty scary. There are, what feels like, 2 million things that could go wrong at any point. And it feels like you worry about all 2 million of them, simultaneously.

Although It’s quite curious when we rationalise what we worry about. Worrying about a single meeting on a single day is a curious thought. Apparently at any one time 15% of organisations are in a meeting. Which means that they are quite a common occurrence. And not one likely to cause us serious harm. I wonder how many people have died in meetings.

Probably very few.

On the other hand, consider the simple task of washing our hands. Our hands harbour immeasurable amounts of bacteria. The worse place is under our finger nails. We’ve got better at it over time but still it’s measured that we don’t do it nearly enough. An Forbes article revealed that in a study, people ‘attempted’ to wash their hands around 33% of the times they were meant too. Contrast that with the clear facts, hand washing can prevent 30% of diarherral related illness and 20% of respiratory related illnesses. Wouldn’t it make more sense to worry about washing our hands?

Change gives us motivation to worry

Us humans are suspectible creatures. We’re aware of the world around us, with so much going on, we are attuned to the noise of society that expect things of us. We fail often, we are irrational and we are concerned with personal endeavours. Personal in the way of work. Washing our hands have been around since we could talk. Entering the world of work and understanding how that all works? Well it depends where you are in your career but if it’s fairly new, likelihood is you’ll be worrying more about it.

The Upside

Well there are some upsides to worrying. Like most things, us humans do it for a reason. From a genetics perspective, we have the ability to worry so it must have a purpose, or why else would if have made it through the gene pool?

Kate Sweeny published paper that was entitled ‘The Surprising Upside of Worrying’ which essentially argues that very point. That worrying has a function, otherwise we wouldn’t have evolved to possess the ability to worry.

According to Sweeny there are quite a few benefits to worrying:

  1. It‘s a cue that a situation is serious

  2. It keeps that stressor at the forefront of our minds so we can react

  3. Motivates us to find a way to deal with it i.e. a plan B

It makes sense right. You’re worried about that meeting. By worrying you are able to think about what to wear, what to say, how to act, what you want to achieve. If you didn’t worry, you might not have thought through all those things. It might have pushed you to read some information about the topic of conversation or prompted you to get familiar with the agenda. Now, I’m not saying you are completely incompetent, not by any means but there is a science behind why we have the ability to worry.

The Ugly Side – Worry in the Workplace

But like most things. In excess it becomes toxic. Worrying for five minutes which then leads you to make a plan for you meeting is good. Worrying for five hours and being paralysed by it, is a bad thing. The reassurance is that 85% of the stuff we worry about doesn’t actually happen so if you find yourself obsessing about the meeting that is something to ground you. By simply saying:

“It probably won’t happen anyway” isn’t about shout if you are in your second hour of worrying and your not getting any work done.

The thing I think a lot of us worry about is the future. If we could just have some mystical ball that tells us everything is going to be alright we wouldn’t have to worry. Especially as a young person going into the world of work we want to feel like we are going to find work that fulfils us, that allows us to reach our potential and that we find passion in. Not knowing that sometimes feels like torture.

And the reality is there is no way to know. But you can work with what you know. Look around you. Who has a job that you want or is leading a life that you like the looks of. Not who you are envious of, what I’m talking about is understanding who you get inspired by. Oh, and make sure you wash your hands.

Entering the meeting room it was apparent this was going to be an interesting experience. Conversations flowed, my head moved side to side as if watching a tennis match. I was present, I nodded when appropriate and guess what? I made it out alive. Another number added to the 85% of things not to worry about.

#Self #Work #Life #LifeLessons #Business

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