Mandy O’Neill, George Mason University – Does Your Workplace Have a Culture of Anxiety?

Is there a culture of anxiety at your workplace?

Mandy O’Neill, associate professor of management at George Mason University, looks into how to change it.

Olivia (Mandy) O’Neill is an associate professor of management at the George Mason University Costello College of Business. She received her PhD in organizational behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Prior to teaching at Mason, she was on the faculty at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and the Terry College of Business, University of Georgia. O’Neill’s research focuses on the interrelationships among emotions, organizational culture, and gender.

Special thanks to Jeanette Patrick and James Patrick Ambuske of R2 Studios, housed within the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

Does Your Workplace Have a Culture of Anxiety?

Stress is commonplace at work, especially in fields like healthcare where the stakes of low performance can literally be life and death. The emotional culture of anxiety that stems from constant workplace stress is a very important topic that should be discussed, yet it has not been researched in-depth until recently.

For our research study, my co-authors and I administered more than 800 employee well-being surveys across 85 departments at a struggling major medical center in the United States. We also obtained financial data from those departments.

As we predicted, those departments with a stronger culture of anxiety generally had higher levels of employee burnout and lower job satisfaction. There was also a tendency for these departments to experience higher operating costs. Chalk those increased costs up to frequent employee turnover, lack of engagement and the overall psychological toll of working in a high-anxiety environment day after day.

However, we also uncovered a way to mitigate this negativity. Departments that had a culture of anxiety – alongside what we call a culture of companionate love – experienced significantly less negative impact. What is companionate love? It’s the type of culture that promotes and spreads platonic love, compassion, and care. When companionate love sets the tone, people are forgiving of each other’s mistakes and flaws, and they are eager to help one another get through tough moments.

To sum up, a culture of anxiety can indeed be detrimental to well-being in the workplace. But it does not have to be that way. In professions like healthcare where stress comes with the territory, managers can look for opportunities to foster companionate love, by cultivating emotional connections and encouraging strong, mutually supportive employee relationships.

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