What Holds People Back From Being Vulnerable At Work?

We looked at our Align tool reports since the pandemic started to understand how the employee experience has changed. Between April-June, we saw a dramatic spike in teams who said they struggled to be vulnerable in front of their colleagues.

Gina Kim
/
August 5, 2020

As we dug into the data, the feelings of what people are holding back on were overwhelming - diminished work productivity, spiking stress levels, or personal issues colliding with work more than ever. 

The consensus? Most people have been dealing with some form of extreme stress yet few have openly shared their problems with their managers or teams. 

Why being vulnerable at work matters

From Zoom fatigue to homeschooling to deep feelings of isolation, we can all relate. And it’s no doubt declining productivity, project delays, tense meetings, dwindling employee retention and morale have become collateral damage in this crisis. 

People are under an enormous amount of stress and when left unspoken without choosing vulnerability as an outlet, they can contribute to rising team conflicts with far reaching effects.

As a manager, what can you do? 

1. Be a role model of shared vulnerability 

Your’re your team’s closest example of how to be one’s best self at work, so start by sharing your everyday challenges. When you set the bar to make openly sharing feelings encouraged, you’ll inspire others to do the same. 

“Over the past couple years I’ve had hundreds of calls with team managers, and from what I’ve seen, a team’s performance is heavily determined by the manager. Team members look to their managers as the norm-setter, and when a manager displays willingness to both share vulnerabilities as well as listen to and accept input without becoming defensive, that’s when teammates feel safe with each other and people to perform at their best. Supporting managers to create those moments with their teams is one of the things I love most about what I do”. 
- Russell Morrison, Client Solutions - Learning & Insights Specialist 

2. Build psychological safety

Fact: Teams are more likely to outperform when members feel confident to speak their mind and take risks (e.g. admitting a project failed, showing emotions under stress) without the fear of consequences. If left open to criticism or negative repercussions, people hesitate to take the very risks needed to succeed.

Small acts, like thanking people when they express their feelings, offering the benefit of the doubt often, or asking what can be learned from failure will go a long way to making your team feel safe.


3. Make empathy part of your team’s culture

Plant emotional intelligence in the heart of your team and watch the peer support grow. When you encourage a way of thinking where reflection and open conversations are business as usual, actively supporting one another becomes second nature.

Remember, it takes courage for your team to put themselves out there. If you lead with vulnerability, acknowledge those who share openly, and build a team who look out for one another, strong team performance (and wellbeing) are sure to follow.

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