Emotional Health in the Workplace – Anton Babushkin, PhD
I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership and the unique perspective a psychoanalyst can bring to workplace. At all levels of an organization, leaders, as well as employees, confront challenges that require both self-understanding and interpersonal skills. Excellent communication is a prerequisite that tops the list of most job postings. However, few employees are prepared to—effectively—manage interpersonal situations.
An example: my friend Isaac is the CEO of a midsize professional services company. He has been in this role for four years. Although hard-working and organized, Isaac noticed that he often has difficulty holding people accountable. The possibility of conflict causes him anxiety, so he avoids confrontation. He is aware that his staff is not performing at its best, affecting the company’s effectiveness and profitability. However, when he has tried to begin that difficult conversation, his anxiety gets in the way.
For a psychoanalyst, the question is always why. Isaac knows what he needs to do, and he can acknowledge he is anxious. He doesn’t know what he can do to change his behavior. Without understanding the specifics of what holds him back, it is hard for Isaac to apply managerial best practices.
Isaac grew up in a family of high achievers. Success and hard work were valued; difficult conversations were often avoided. In the context of therapy, Isaac realized that he had learned from his parents to bury his frustrations and complaints. In his family, conversation would lead to bad feelings and resentment. At an early age, he had learned that conflicts were to be avoided at all costs.
Suppressing his anxiety became automatic so that when he was faced with conflicts at work, he was not aware of his pattern of avoidance. With the help of an on-site therapist, he accepted the reality that managing conflict was a normal and expected part of his job. To confront an issue was not the same as to criticize, which he perceived to lead to the destruction of work relationships. In the process of understanding himself, he developed new behaviors, allowing his team to make the necessary adjustments for increased performance.
The principles of good management are often difficult to apply. We don’t always recognize our blind spots or the reasons for why we struggle with changes and behaviors. Here the role of trained therapists in the workplace is vital. Trained therapists can help employees understand themselves and create new opportunities to take practical steps to solve issues. As a result, teams can work better and be more effective in reaching company objectives.