Psychologists on the most important workplace dynamics

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While every company wants to be financially successful — it shouldn’t come at the cost of your employees. Busy seasons, stressful deadlines, demanding clients and endless meetings all contribute to raised levels of anxiety in the professional sphere. Though these experiences are to be expected, there are ways that smart leaders can guide the environment of their workplace to be positive and supportive.

One strategic avenue to explore is the psychology behind why we feel the way we do when we walk into our office day-in and day-out. Does your team feel dread on Monday? Or are they hyped for projects and interactions? Here, the most important dynamics to prioritize in your company to make everyone feel valued for their contributions and excited to be part of your business:

Respect the difference between introverts and extroverts

In the most basic terms, an introvert needs alone time to reboot, while an extrovert can use the company of others to gain inspiration. Every company needs a little of both to maintain balance and complete work — but all-too-often, their needs are managed together and judged the same. This is a miss, according to Dr. Chandler S. Chang, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of The Therapy Lab.

“Introverts are the folks who dive into an impossibly difficult task on their own, even as others lose momentum! On the other hand, the extroverts may thrive on planning team interactions and collaborations and benefit from workplace chat,” he continues. “Each style is equally productive, but it’s key for colleagues to appreciate the differences and for managers to match employees to the right tasks.” This may mean leaving an introvert’s door closed or not interrupting them when they have their headphones on. It could also mean pairing together duos you know will work cohesively together, even if they aren’t energized in the same way.

Prioritize trust

Think back on the worst job you ever had. Was it waiting tables at the local BBQ joint in your hometown? Or an entry-level gig with a boss who had a supersized ego? Whatever the case, you probably felt unsettled because you didn’t value the thought leadership of those who were leading you. Like any relationship, having trust is essential to progress. When your employees don’t believe you have their back, they won’t follow your direction or respect your decisions, according to Dr. Judy Ho, board-certified clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author. Not only is this bad news for your company, but the health of everyone on your team will suffer, too.

“Lack of trust in your superiors leads to a number of physical and psychological problems, including poor diet, lack of exercise, increased risk in cardiovascular disease, obesity, and high blood pressure, and increased risk for anxiety and depression,” she continues. “This likely relates to the feelings of helplessness that one feels to affect their own work-life if they can’t trust their boss to look out for their best interests.”

Be flexible with environment

Sure, you probably can’t redesign your entire office based on one piece of feedback — but it is worth analyzing how you could change some areas to improve productivity. Much like the differences between introverts and extroverts, founder and CEO of The Genius Within, Dr. Nancy Doyle says many people have adverse reactions to their environment. While some are hypersensitive with noise, others react to lights differently. In whatever way you can, help people get into their groove by optimizing their desk and working area. And perhaps, the time they clock in daily.

“We can accommodate this with noise-canceling barriers, headphones, seating in quiet zones, booking out meeting rooms for reports that require concentration: find the compromise that fits the role best,” she urges. “This is why some people are more productive when working from home or on flextime, whether coming in early or staying late when its quiet.”

Facilitate deep work

If you aren’t familiar with deep work, it’s when a professional blocks off time in their calendar to zero-in on a project. Usually, the work requires their full attention, sans interruption. For those who are booked in back-to-back meetings for hours every single day, the possibility to sit at a computer screen and focus seems impossible. But with the help of upper management, it can be a reality for all employees. In fact, it’s the top recommendation from Dr. Don Vaughn in the psychology department at UCLA.

“Give permission for employees in these roles to block two to three consecutive hours to eliminate distractions in the form of meetings or even simple requests on Slack,” he continues. “Protected time is essential because the prefrontal cortex—which controls goal setting and attention—can be derailed by something as innocuous as a 30-second question. After even a minor distraction, it can take 15 to 30 minutes to get fully back on task.”

Manage the boss with strategic communication

Yep, you read that correctly: junior employees must manage their senior leaders by understanding how to approach conversations effectively. As Dr. Chang explains, sometimes younger (or more inexperienced) employees tend to update their boss too often … or too little. While tone is important when speaking to someone above you, so is your frequency. Every update you give to the person writing your check every two weeks should have meaning and more often than not, a solution or a specific ask.

“If your persistent optimism and rosy outlook on the workweek instills anxiety in your manager, aim for a more measured report. If a problem or challenge is being identified, it should always be accompanied by possible solutions. Even if they’re not viable, having a few ideas will start the conversation and create momentum,” Dr. Chang recommends. “Observe and reflect on your manager’s and your teammates’ personalities and manage your communication with intention and not in a haphazard way.”

Create the opportunity for community

No matter if you’re a heads-down type of workforce or you have bagel Wednesdays until 11 a.m., people are more likely to stay at a company if they have a sense of community. Strict rules, lack of communal spaces or an overbearing, micromanaging c-level team can make employees feel anxious or alone in their work. Think about a kid who is bullied at school or a fourth wheel that was kicked out of a three-person friendship. It doesn’t feel good — and it shouldn’t be the way your team describes their jobs.

“As most people spend a good amount of their waking lives at work, the workplace should be one of the primary communities that you can feel supported by,” Dr. Ho explains. “This does not involve a lot of extracurricular events, nor does it mean you are standing around the water cooler talking all the time, but even the idea of implicit community — knowing that your co-workers are there for you in the event you want to take a break with them, shoot the breeze, or brainstorm about a work problem — can improve your quality of life at work.”