articles / People management/ Anxiety Leads to Bad Decisions. Here’s Why You Need to Prioritize Employee Mental Health.

Anxiety Leads to Bad Decisions. Here’s Why You Need to Prioritize Employee Mental Health.


Oren Frank – CEO & CO-Founder,
Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

No matter what you do for work, decision-making is at the center of it. As humans, we spend every day making decisions — big and small, cautious and impulsive.

At work, decisions matter. What might seem like a quick judgment call could affect your entire team, even the success of your company. As researchers Andrew Campbell, Jo Whitehead, and Sydney Finkelstein summarized in a Harvard Business Review research report, “[E]normously important decisions made by intelligent, responsible people with the best information and intentions are sometimes hopelessly flawed.”

This is something psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman wrote about in his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which describes the mind in terms of its two, opposite modes of thinking: “System 1,” Kahneman asserts, is based on instinct, enabling us to make fast, emotion-driven decisions. Fight or flight, in other words. “System 2” describes our logical, careful thought processes—how we would ideally make decisions in the workplace if we could. Unsurprisingly, system 1 is responsible for most of our bad decisions—those influenced by acute emotions like anger, frustration, and sadness as well as biases, anxiety and other mental health issues.

According to Kahneman, everyone possesses these two systems of thinking. What that means is no one is immune to poor judgment. We all are vulnerable to tough emotions, and acting in response to them. It doesn’t matter how smart, powerful, or well-prepared you are. As humans, we are always assessing our options with pattern recognition: we react to experiences with “emotional tags,” formed by memories and personal associations. This process is totally unconscious.

Several recent studies show that anxiety impairs our ability to make decisions, as it puts us in fight-or-flight mode. In this state, we really feel like we’re being chased by a lion, even if the “danger” looming is just the stress of tight deadlines and excessive meetings.

To make sure your team can engage in thoughtful decision-making, it’s up to you to foster an environment that prioritizes mental health. Rather than have your employees rely on stress for a quick-fix of motivation, emphasize the importance of stress-management — for well-being and productivity alike.

The article contains five guidelines Oren uses at Talkspace.