11 common fears people have at work — and how to deal with them

Jacquelyn Smith

In fact, most of us feel stressed out at the office more often than we do calm, explains Sylvia Hepler, a career development specialist and author of "Learning Leadership Through Loss."

"Work-related stress in America has reached syndrome status," she says. "Our need to perform at extraordinarily high levels — often doing more with less — and our desire to achieve perfection are strangling us."

Hepler says there are a few things in particular that worry almost everyone at some point in their career.

Here are 11 of the most common work fears and how to manage them:

1. Getting fired.

"This worry usually stems from a generalized simmering insecurity and sometimes from the inability to put certain situations into perspective," she says. "Unless you have real life evidence that you are headed for termination, you may benefit from talking with a mentor or even a therapist to manage such concerns."

But first, check in with your boss and ask how you're doing, where you can improve, and what they expect from you going forward.

It also helps to develop an early morning habit of visualizing yourself with a paycheck in hand, she says.

2. Being disliked by your boss.

Most employees leave their jobs because of a lukewarm or downright bad relationship with the individual who supervises them, Hepler says. "If you assume your boss dislikes you, take time to assess reality before making a hasty move. Human perceptions are not always accurate."

3. Not being able to handle your workload.

Because everybody's plate is "beyond full" today, you may feel totally overwhelmed, she explains. "Reconnect with your professional priorities and make sure that all of your tasks, activities, and projects directly align with them. Build your calendar around what is most important."

4. Not being current or in the know.

"To survive and thrive at work, you can't stay stagnant," says Hepler. "You're required to learn new skills as well as adapt to process and technology changes."

To overcome nagging fears of falling behind, sign up for online courses and read literature that teaches what you need to know.

5. Not having as much talent as your coworkers.

The comparison game cripples even the best employees. "Identify your strengths and proactively seek more opportunities to use them. Set yourself apart from others by becoming the go-to person for specialized information, creative ideas, or smart advice," she suggests.

6. Being seen as a problem maker, not a problem solver.

"Telling yourself you don't have what it takes to create solutions to problems puts you on the road to nowhere fast," Hepler says. "Instead of lying awake at night worrying about the problems you may have created for your company, try reviewing the problems you've successfully solved in the past." 

Then, immersed in confidence, brainstorm viable options for dealing with whatever is currently bothering you.

7. Having little or no influence.

Positively affecting people, processes, and bottom line results requires a reputable professional image, solid relationships, and clear intent. "Figure out what kind of influence you want, why, and with whom," she advises. "Start simple and small."

8. Breaking down from chronic stress.

"Based upon my experience with overworked clients, I believe most folks are barely hanging on," says Hepler. "If you fit into this population, try adjusting your ordinary habits and actions to reduce some stress."

Begin with the basics: Get enough sleep; eat nutritious foods; create an exercise program; and take periodic breaks.

 9. Being passed over for a promotion.

So many people worry that Joe will get that promotion that you know you really deserve. And sometimes that's exactly what happens. But don't just sit back and watch it happen. Do something about it.

"Find ways to add value, and make sure the right people notice."

10. Hitting a salary plateau.

"Unless you have a physical or mental impediment, the possibility of bringing home a bigger paycheck exists at any point throughout your career," Hepler explains. "As long as you fulfill your job duties, expand your skill set, and bring tangible value to the table, trust that you deserve greater financial compensation."

11. Remaining unemployed.

If you have a messy work history or you don't bother to conduct a credible search, this worry may be justified, she says. "Otherwise, know that your next opportunity is just around the corner. Imagine yourself in interview settings, and see yourself saying 'yes' to the ideal match." 

"As we all know, chronic stress destroys health, wrecks relationships, impedes productivity, and stifles spirits," Hepler adds. "When you think about it, swimming the stream of stress without relief is a form of suffocation. Is this what you really want, and is this what employers need?"

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