Psychologist, author, and emotional skills coach at Emergy, Jarkko Rantanen believes that the pandemic has further increased existential anxiety or so-called “existential crisis” among employees. With the right approach, crises can be turned into a strength for individuals and teams.
“In existential crises or anxiety, a person begins to question deep questions about their life – who am I really, what am I doing here, what is the meaning of it all.”
This can be a fleeting emotion or a longer phase.
Rantanen explains that the deep longing for meaning is built within us. Therefore, questioning one’s existence in the workplace should not be viewed negatively or avoided.
Studies show that during the pandemic, more people have begun to question themselves, their work, and their relationship to these things. Therefore, it would be good for workplaces to have some kind of readiness to deal with these questions. The word crisis can take on a completely different connotation when it is associated with growth and development.
Rantanen explains that often charismatic and credible experts or leaders have gone through various crises, including existential ones.
“An existential crisis can actually be a phase of life that reflects in a person as a new depth. The deeper you have explored who you are and what your purpose is, the better you can choose where and with what intensity you use your energy.”
Everyone has the right to be human in the workplace
Organizational culture is built in part by each member. Rantanen especially encourages leaders and managers to lead by example with open communication, including sharing something of themselves.
“We all have the right to feel human in the workplace. In an organizational culture that allows for the open acknowledgement of feelings such as anxiety and frustration, it is safe for individuals to be themselves and feel valued.”
Rantanen says that by encouraging open communication, the struggles of employees can be identified at an early stage. Often, it may be enough that the person feels heard.
“A leader or manager does not have to be a therapist, but presence and genuine listening can be just what the employee needs. It is not necessary to start with solutions. With excessive focus on solutions, something important may be lost, and understanding of the situation may be too superficial.”
According to Rantanen, an existential crisis should be viewed as a gift, as it is an opportunity to change the individual or organizational behavior.
“No emotion is inherently harmful, it is trying to tell something that can then be listened to and considered in the light of reason. Emotionally intelligent self or leading others does not mean wallowing in emotions, but using them to find the right direction.”
Rantanen also views existential crises as an opportunity for growth and development, both for individuals and the organization as a whole. He encourages leaders to listen to and consider the messages behind emotions, rather than suppressing or ignoring them. Strengthening social relationships also contributes to a sense of meaning.
Sometimes, it may be appropriate to consider whether the job description can be adapted to better support the employee’s goals or interests. At worst, unresolved feelings lead to high turnover among employees.
“Suppressed feelings are not the only reason for an employee to quit, but open communication can ensure that the employer and employee needs have been heard and dealt with in the organization – before it is too late.”
Rantanen notes that the pandemic has put extra pressure on the emotional and mental well-being of employees, making it even more crucial for organizations to foster a culture of open and empathetic communication.