Leaderflip Star Logo

It’s What You’re Not Telling Your Staff That Makes Them Run Away Screaming

Share This Post

There is a new trend in our current work world called, bare minimum Monday. The idea is to ease yourself into the new workweek on Monday because of the anxiety of a scary Sunday. 

So what does that do to the rest of the week?

Day 1, Bare minimum Monday – Designed to gradually work ourselves into the new week. I’m guessing that means show up whenever you are ready to log on, have no meetings, and have little to no expectation of work being done except to read emails. Take a long lunch, check emails again, and then log off. 

Day 2, Traumatic Tuesday –  The realization that not a damn thing got done on Monday and now everything is looming large on the horizon. Panic is setting in.

Day 3, Whining Wednesday – Now there’s too much work to do and that’s not fair. 

Day 4, Terrifying Thursday – Racing to get stuff done because the next day is Friday and we are worried that our well-deserved weekend is going to be ruined. 

Day 5, Frantic Friday – On top of the work that didn’t get done we find ourselves scrambling to plan the weekend. We complain that we have to work all week and there’s no time for ourselves. We don’t know what’s happening at work because we don’t want to be bothered to come into the office or attend meetings. The anxiety is building because our satisfying Saturday is filled with everything we didn’t get done during the week. We are facing a scary Sunday meaning our anxiety is exploding because it all starts over again on Monday. By Monday we are too mentally and emotionally tired to work. 

This is nothing new

Work anxiety and fear have been ever-present for centuries. In our quest for self-preservation, we are constantly, or secretly, concerned about how we support ourselves and our families while finding time for ourselves. If we have jobs we secretly fear losing our job while we look for ways to make it big in the internet carnival because of the promise of working two hours a week while making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and what’s the long-term expectation of that work plan?

Anxiety and fear

Anxiety and fear are two real human emotions that follow us around every day, we can’t control them because they are hard-wired into our systems. We can learn to manage them and as a leader, we do have some influence over anxiety and fear in our staff as well.

Fear is an emotional prime directive designed to keep us safe. It alerts us to immediate danger in our environment like smelling smoke, hearing a scream, gunshot, or sirens. These triggers usually involve one or more of our five senses, fear alerts us to danger.

Anxiety is a little different because it tends to focus on our emotions versus the dangers that bring on fear. I was told that anxiety can be more like a slow burn, it builds up over time, or it takes multiple factors to trigger anxiety. 

I have worked with many people over the years including myself and we understand a key contributor to anxiety is the fear of the unknown. Not knowing what the future will bring, not knowing what the boss wants when they call you unexpectedly and ask if you have a minute to come to their office. Not knowing what will happen with the next round of budget cuts, and not knowing if I will have a job next month because of the economy. As you are reading this you are feeling anxious because you are thinking of situations that trigger your anxiety. Sorry.

Thank you for the anxiety

Over the years I started keeping track of how many team conflicts arise from staff anxiety and there’s a lot. What triggers that anxiety? In most instances, it is the fear of the unknown. I believe in all of the work I have done, the one thing that cripples and paralyzes a team the most is the fear of the unknown.

In many of these instances, communication, or the lack of it, was the factor that created anxiety. 

I was doing some communication teamwork with a group of leaders. We were having a dialogue on how much information you shared with your team. In many cases, the response was, “Only what they need to know.” I stood there looking at the group and asked the question, “What do you tell your team when there is nothing to report?” One leader blurted out, “Nothing, I tell them nothing.” 

Again I stood there and waited. After a few seconds, I could begin to hear some of the gears grinding away in their heads. Then I asked this, “If you only tell them what you think they need to know, or nothing at all, what do you think goes on in their head over the weekend?” Again I waited.

It didn’t take long before someone said, “Nothing good.” Exactly, when you don’t have open, honest, and transparent conversations and you tell them only what YOU think they need to know, or you assume everything is good by not telling them anything at all, anxiety kicks in. 

In other posts, I have written about the power of active inquiry when you ask yourself, “What don’t I know?”.  But what happens when you don’t talk to your staff and they ask themselves “What don’t I know?” They fill in the blanks of what you are not telling them with their own horror stories. That’s self-preservation because they are now working on worse-case scenarios that they are possibly facing on Monday. By Monday they will believe the stories they told themselves in their head creating a full-on manic Monday. By the way, we all do it.

A different way to look at this

I was working with a team who had been having trust issues with each other and their leader who I will call Sam. This was a team that had both local and remote workers. This was 2BC (two years Before Covid). After working with them for a couple of hours, the team came to a consensus that the trust issue was caused by a lack of communication. After we identified the crucial behavior of ineffective communication we looked at crucial moments when the lack of communication caused anxiety among the team members.

The number one crucial moment? When Sam didn’t communicate openly with the team it caused the remote folks to feel isolated and left out from what was happening in the office which caused animosity, trust issues between team members and Sam, and diminished work efforts.  

As leaders, we know that we set the tone and behaviors of our teams. So Sam decided to focus on his communication behavior and set an example of how the team can practice better communication. It came down to the big issue of Sam only telling the team what he thought they needed to know, or nothing at all… sound familiar?

The solution

To stop the weekend horror show, the scary Sunday, and the manic Monday Sam decided to commit to sending out an email by 10:00 AM  every Friday, and in the subject line it read, “This is what I know.” 

The email was an outline of all the meetings Sam went to during the week. A quick overview of what happened, what was discussed, or if nothing changed or happened he told them that nothing changed or happened. He included a quick overview of the projects they were working on and the big one… what they could expect for the next week.

Sam agreed to share information that may not be positive or could cause some challenges because the team wanted to know the real reality so they could stop creating their reality.

Sam deliberately practiced open, honest, and transparent communication and he kept his promise to the team. 

I checked in with Sam at the 90-day mark. Here is what happened.

  • Sam stayed true to his word and did not miss a Friday email. He said at first it was extra work for him, but after doing it several times, he started to take notes during his meetings to cut down on trying to remember what happened. 
  • After reporting on team projects for several weeks, the reports became easy updates.
  • He began to notice that the team meetings were more engaging and it seemed that people were starting to trust each other again. They were laughing, and sharing ideas, and he noticed they started talking about the fun things they did over the weekend.
  • About six to seven weeks in, a couple of his team members submitted their version of “This is what I know.” It was an overview of the projects they were working on and the interaction they were having with their teammates. Sam was stunned, he had no idea they would do this, and they asked him if he would include their notes at the end of his email. Sam did and the number of team members who submitted their version of “This is what I know” increased.

Six months after he started sending his Friday email, his Team Lead came to my office, she said she wanted to thank me for her job. I asked what she meant. She told me that she was ready to leave the organization because she had lost hope. The work we did together that day six months ago and her boss’s honest commitment to making a difference changed everything for her. 

Four years later Sam still writes his “This is what I know” email every Friday and has become an influential leader. 

The bottom line

If someone ever figures out this five-day workweek is bogus and we can be more productive working four or even three days a week, sign me up! Until then, let’s deliberately practice open, honest, and transparent communication. 

If people are so distraught on Monday we need to find out what is causing that. Maybe, we need to give them the actual script for the movie in their head instead of letting them direct their own horror show.

Exercise | Deliberate practice  

Are you faced with bare minimum or manic Mondays? try to identify the crucial behavior that’s feeding that experience for yourself or your team.

Resilience

We have done a number of resilience training for individual teams across the organization. In all of our research, we have identified four skills that when practiced can help to mitigate the anxiety that creates the manic Monday.

  1. Find a purpose – When faced with a challenge try to focus on the things you can control and proceed with purpose. Make a plan and stick to it.
  2. Build connections – Prioritize healthy relationships within your team. Build a social support network to assist each other and develop your own social awareness. Be alert to the needs of the team and have a dialogue about them.
  3. Embrace healthy thought patterns – Work to maintain proper perspective. Practice realistic optimism (I’ve heard this expressed as practicing courage) even when the outlook might be challenging. Your staff looks to you to be their navigator through the rough waters. View change as an opportunity for growth and in the process embrace humor, a good laugh is very healthy, as long as you are not using humor at someone else’s expense. Tell a good clean dad or mom joke or pun, or better yet, be able to laugh at yourself, that keeps everyone out of trouble.
  4. Foster Wellness – Take care of your mental and physical health. Practice well-being for you and your staff. Allowing your staff to write their own weekend horror story for Monday is not healthy, for any of you.

In Sam’s example, one email at 10:00 a.m. every Friday made a difference and triggered all four skills in practicing resilience.  

Look for the real challenge or crucial behavior that is fostering an emotion or an emotional response. We can derail ourselves when we look for factors that aren’t there. If you don’t know where to start, sit down with your team and create a safe space to have open, honest, and transparent dialogue.

Ask yourself the question, “What don’t I know?” Then think about your staff asking themselves the question “What don’t I know?”, and watch them create their own story.

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.

More To Explore

Exercises

The Rational Leader – Exercise | Deliberate practice

From the Post: The Rational Leader: Cultivating Self-Awareness, Critical Examination, and Determination Start with one of the five areas listed below to practice self-awareness, self-examination,

The 5 Content Pillars:
The Exercises: