Counteracting Learned Helplessness at Work

Counteracting Learned Helplessness at Work

Under today’s demanding working conditions, with leaders that constantly add on the task schedule, it is legitimate to second-guess yourself, be challenged by your limits and feel the need to scale back to a less exhausting rhythm. 

Having self-awareness of oneself capabilities is actually healthy; however, it is when such thoughts suggest your contributions always as inadequate that it could become counterproductive. The ‘can’t-do’ attitude among employees could be a symptom of a more substantial disequilibrium, and it could mean that your workplace have become afflicted with “learned helplessness.”

First researched by American psychologist Martin Seligman in 1967, learned helplessness is a state that occurs after a person has experienced a stressful situation repeatedly. He will find himself regularly facing uncontrollable, strenuous situations, in which he does not exercise control. A person in this state comes to believe that he is unable to control or change the situation, so he will not try, even when opportunities for change become available.

The Impact on Your Body and Mind

The effects of learned helplessness can be extensive, affecting a person’s mental health, relationships, and other aspects of life. It also increases the risk of stress, depression, and low self-esteem, it makes you become passive in the face of trauma and less willing to use or learn adaptive responses to difficult situations.

Among the factors that can make a person more prone to learned helplessness there are history of abuse and a pessimistic outlook in life, nonetheless, certain key events could constitute the turning point for a disillusioned mind-set, which can grow until it takes hold in many areas of an individual’s life, an abusive boss for instance. Managers can induce helplessness by repeatedly asserting that the employee is incompetent, until the worker comes to believe that ‘He is never going to be able to satisfy this person’ and gives up quitting.

Other times contrariwise, their failures come from factors that are internal and everlasting, such as a lack of ability that cannot be changed. For example, continuing to smoke despite several attempts to quit may cause a person to believe that they will always be a smoker. Similarly, failing to lose weight after making various dietary or lifestyle changes may cause to believe that it will never happen and it is better to give up trying. Toxic relationships also endure over the victims’ belief that they can never escape the abuser, even when help and support are available.

Learned Helplessness in Working Environments 

Moreover, if not treated, it leads to disengagement in the workforce, low effort and a retreat from a sense of community. Rather than solving problems, such companies can be stuck in despair, with employees replaying a negative event repeatedly in their minds. Hence, employers should be able to recognize the first symptoms spreading among personnel, and counteract with positive actions such like:

  • identifying negative thoughts that contribute to learned helplessness and replace them with positive and beneficial ones;
  • improve self-esteem through challenging emotions instead of abuse, neglect, and trauma;
  • constitute the basis for acts of support and encouragement;

If successful, today’s managers will come to the realization that the differences between productive and unproductive employees reside on how they have been able to address the situation that had burdened on them.

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