At Headway, we see several clients every week that present with frustrations and challenges about work related issues. These can be concerns about the way a manager has been interacting; the way a CEO behaves irrationally and impulsively; the way team members have been under-performing or even concerns about their own behaviour within the workplace. What we see a lot is how an individual’s expectations of themselves and of others has the potential to impact psychological health and well-being.
One of our clients recently presented with what appeared to be work related stress. She had been largely successful in her young career to date. She had been promoted numerous times and it was clear she was highly regarded by those she managed and the people she reported to. But her problem was about her expectations of those she reported to who were the owners of the company. She described a lack of direction and role clarity from the CEO; an apparent lack of will by the leader to manage certain under-performing staff members and what she described as no apparent desire from the people who sat higher on the organisational chart to take the company forward. These frustrations (resulting from expectations) built over a few months and led to heightened stress, frustration, resentment and what eventually appeared to be burnout-like symptoms.
Our client’s presenting issue was not actually the behaviour of others. It was her own expectations of her leaders and unrelenting standards about how they should be acting and behaving. Having expectations of ourselves and others can be helpful – it allows us to set an internal guide about what we are willing and not willing to accept. But one of the problems we see a lot is that people use their own yardstick to measure how others should shape up, and this is what can lead to frustration and if left unmanaged – can create psychological distress.
It is important is to ask yourself the question about whether your expectations of others (team members, colleagues, manager, CEO, husband, wife) are reasonable? Are you measuring others by what you would deem acceptable or what you would do in the same situation? Because the issue is that it is very difficult to change the behaviour of others. Whilst we can certainly try to have these conversations and occasionally, they can be fruitful – the only real way to reduce frustration and distress resulting from high standards is to modify what we expect of others.
When people adjust their way of thinking and manage what they expect from others, they often see a dramatic improvement in their overall health and well-being. We are not saying to expect less and accept poor behaviour – we are saying that if your high expectations are creating distress, then they need to be modified. This is not easy and certainly takes time, however one must ask themselves the question: is it worth getting completely worked up, losing sleep and becoming disenfranchised about other people’s behaviour and the way they go about things in the workplace? Or are we better off asking the hard question – do I want to be here in this organisation? Is this a good fit for me? If so, then perhaps I need to adjust what I expect from those around me.