Anxiety at work can also be productive

Anxiety at work is often seen as purely negative. But new research shows that moderate amounts of stress of the right kind and targeted can produce good results.

For people with different Belbin team roles – especially Caregivers and Moulders – a certain amount of anxiety can actually lead to very productive behaviour. Other team members can help them with this. How? We explain that in this blog.

Alice Boyes , author of The Anxiety Toolkit , lists the well-known drawbacks of fear and anxiety at work in an article in Harvard Business Review .

  • You misjudge the image you think others have of you.
  • You immediately become defensive on feedback from others.
  • You avoid situations that you consider risky. As a result, others find it complicated to deal with you.
  • You react negatively to proposals for change and innovation.

But according to Boyes, fear can also motivate people in very positive ways: for example, fear of rejection can make people value relationships more and work harder on them. Being sensitive and careful can help you get better at completing complex tasks.

The better you understand how your anxiety works, the better you can reap the benefits and minimize the negatives. So that you accept yourself more and are better able to deal with challenges at work.

Disproportionate and Situational Anxiety

Recent research by Cheng & McCarthy also shows that a certain amount of stress and anxiety at work can help people perform better by helping them focus and regulate their own behavior .

They distinguish between two types of anxiety at work: dispositional anxiety – structural unease about one’s own work performance – and situational anxiety – temporary nervousness about specific tasks, such as meeting deadlines.

Both appear to have beneficial effects on people’s performance: because we follow the progress of a work task more precisely and work more concentrated.

In order for our fear and anxiety to work in our favor, a number of conditions must be met:

  • High motivation: so that we can convert our fear into concentration.
  • Emotional intelligence: to be able to recognize and recognize one’s own fear.
  • Competence: so that the fear can gradually fade during the work and upon completion of the assignment it appears that that fear has not negatively affected your performance.

Fear and anxiety and the Belbin team roles

Our personal Belbin team roles – the strengths in our behavior – and our understanding of them can influence the extent to which you and I experience fear and anxiety at work, influence the way we work and influence the team around us .

Cheng & McCarthy’s research focuses primarily on completing tasks within deadlines. Areas in which the three action-oriented ®Belbin team roles – Business Men , Formers and Caregivers – would particularly like to assert themselves. Especially with Formers and Caregivers, fear and anxiety can be an engine for their behavior in the team.

An important difference is that in the Caregiver the fear is directed inward, while in a strong Former, who is outspoken and assertive, that fear translates into directive behavior towards others.


If you have a strong Caregiver slant, internal fear motivates you to strive for top quality in your work, down to the last detail. To a certain extent, a team can (un)consciously stir this up by expressing the confidence in you that you will again ensure that the team assignment is completed down to the last detail. Even if that means you have to get through the night.

This can be an excellent division of roles for you as a Caregiver and for your team and can yield great results. But when the workload is too high, that fear of a Caregiver can become overwhelming and counterproductive. The work then piles up, the team misses deadlines or – worse – your health and well-being as a valued colleague suffer.

Teams can take a number of measures to ensure that their colleagues with strong Caregiver team roles are not overwhelmed by their fear:

  • Set boundaries so that team members with a distinct Caregiver role know where their responsibilities begin and end.
  • Letting someone with a broader view draw the line when control becomes obsessive and counterproductive. Due to their own high standards, Caregivers often find it difficult to delegate, even when it is too much for them. Getting the details right is often more important to them than meeting the deadline.
  • By allowing enough time (and a favorable working environment) for error checking at the end of a project. If accuracy is critical to the success of your project, it’s important to avoid rushing through the typical Caregiver phase at the end.


If you have a strong Shaper team role, then fear is an energy source that excites you to pursue new goals and compete with yourself and others. You are achievement-oriented: obstacles are there to be overcome and to get to the top.

When a team is thrashing around or even plodding along quite happily, the Vormer behavior provides the necessary direction and drive to get things moving. Because strong Shapers lead the way, set goals, set deadlines and ensure accountability.

But if you show too much of your preferred behavior as a Shaper, it can collide with other team members, irritate them and cause quarrels. A Shaper would then do well to limit the damage. By acknowledging that everyone – including themselves – is fallible and sometimes overshoots.

Others on the team—with different team roles—can also help make the Shaper’s fears and anxiety work best for the team:

  • Formers quickly find meetings endless chatter. If Monitors, Caregivers and Specialists think they need to meet in detail about something, leave the Molder colleague out of the meeting and briefly inform her or him afterwards about the key points.
  • Whatever your own team role: learn to communicate with others in a very goal-oriented and task-oriented way. When you can show a Former that you fully understand that goals must be achieved and meeting deadlines is top sport, you have an ally in a Former who will go through fire.
  • Commit yourself and take responsibility. When they see freeloaders or see a project slipping, people with a strong Vormers team role become frustrated. While they bring a lot of positive energy when they recognize that the assignment is in good hands and the team is willing to take on challenges.

Sources of fear of other team roles

For all of us, regardless of your or my team role, fear and anxiety at work can be important drivers of our behavior.

Employees with a strong Group Worker team role often become more anxious when a conflict threatens to disrupt the harmony in the team. Colleagues with a strong   Specialist team role may feel threatened when others ‘intrude’ into their highly specialized field. Team members with a highly developed Businessman team role are likely to show their concern for change by resisting.

When you understand the team roles and the associated preferred behaviors of your team members, you and your colleagues can use your fears and apprehensions productively for the team, instead of jeopardizing your performance.

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