Ashley was feeling especially anxious one morning. She was making a series of obvious errors when setting up her register for the day. When her supervisor asked Ashley what was wrong, she confided that she was worried about the upcoming reorganization of the department. She was uncertain she could adapt to working with a whole new set of colleagues. Her supervisor snapped, “You better get used it. This roller coaster isn’t going to slow down for you.”
This exchange came to mind when I was going over some data recently that linked a few intriguing ideas.
One measure reflected the level of anxiety that people brought to their social relationships, especially their fear of being deserted. Other measures reflected the quality of their working relationships. They assess the respect and camaraderie of well-functioning workgroups as well as the downside of workplace incivility.
It was no surprise that people who reported higher levels of relationship anxiety also reported greater distress. They reported more indicators of burnout and fewer of engagement with work. They encountered more incivility and felt less integral to their workgroups. Overall, they reported a lower level of resilience at work.
It was a bit more striking that regardless of the individuals’ level of relationship anxiety, those who worked on units whose manager reported higher levels of relationship anxiety reported less resilience as well. Their experience of worklife was aligned on some key factors with their supervisors’ perspectives on relationships.
The most striking thing was that these factors combined. The people with the least workplace resilience were those with high relationship anxiety working on units whose managers also reported high levels of relationship anxiety.
On many points, it is valuable and politically astute to agree with your boss. But on some fundamental ways of understanding the world, it is healthier to have a different point of view.
As in the vignette at the top of the page, the supervisor’s anxiety about the upcoming change amplified Ashley’s distress. If continued, the exchange could further increase their anxiety. It is great to find someone who shares your strengths, but it can be a problem when a key person shares your weaknesses.