5 Reasons ‘Hey-Hanging’ Uncertainty Is Bad For Your Mental Health And Career


The “hey-hanging” trend recently flooded the media, sparking a torrent of stories about what it means, why it’s happening, and how rude it is. I wrote a post for Forbes.com which led to an interview with The Wall Street Journal and an appearance on CBS News. I was surprised that some media outlets took a humorous approach to the story, without understanding the seriousness of how this type of asynchronous communication can negatively impact employees’ mental health and aggravate an already stressful, chaotic and confusing workplace.

Problems with communication shortcuts

Just as the vague phrase “We need to talk” leaves the spouse hanging, wreaking havoc on the marriage, the three-letter word “hey” uncovers the worst-case scenario and strikes fear into the hearts of employees. Because? Because communication shortcuts trigger the eleven-letter word “uncertainty.” And uncertainty triggers the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight or stress response). And the consequences of stress affect mental health, job performance and morale.

As a marriage therapist, I find that these truncated methods of communication (often not serious in the final analysis) can take their toll on both intimate and professional relationships. Nothing is more terrifying than the uncertain stability of your marriage or job, especially if they are already fragile.

“Hey-hanging” is just one example of how communication shortcuts are misunderstood, even when people mean well. It causes employees to draw threatening conclusions about what a manager or coworker is thinking or intends. Furthermore, remote and hybrid work leaves us no idea whether a colleague is at their workplace or somewhere else.

“In physical office environments, sometimes it’s easier to send a colleague a quick Slack or Teams message instead of walking over to their desk,” says Brenda Pohlman, vice president and practice leader at Working human. “In these cases, sending a quick ‘hey’ to get their attention can seem pretty harmless. But when employees don’t know why they are being contacted, especially if the person contacting them is their manager or someone in a position of authority over them, it can cause serious anxiety. “You don’t want people to think they may have done something wrong or made a mistake.”

Unwritten rules in the workplace cause miscommunication and disconnection between employees and affect engagement, performance and morale at work. Communication shortcuts can perpetuate an unpredictable and, in some cases, toxic work culture because:

  1. Activate the sympathetic nervous system (stress or fear response).
  2. Lack of broader context, which increases miscommunication and disconnection between colleagues.
  3. Waste valuable time and dilute productivity.
  4. Spread tensions among team members, which hinders group morale.
  5. Exacerbate the already present subterfuge and paranoia of the employer’s silent maneuvers as “silent cut”.”

The Psychology Behind Workplace Uncertainty

Poorly managed fear is responsible for most poor communication in organizations. It is important for business leaders to consider the psychological safety of their employees and how their mental health affects the company’s bottom line.

The human mind is like Velcro for negativity and Teflon for positivity. The inevitable uncertainties of work life instantly awaken our fight-or-flight reaction. Does my boss appreciate my work? Will they hire me for the position? Will my colleagues like my presentation? Your survival brain constantly updates your world, making judgments about what is safe and what is not. Will do almost anything for the sake of certainty because you are programmed to overestimate threats and underestimate your ability to handle them.

The human brain prefers to know an outcome one way or another to calm itself down. If you don’t know what’s around the corner, you won’t be able to keep us out of harm’s way. His disdain for uncertainty leads him to invent all kinds of unproven stories hundreds of times a day, because uncertainty equals danger. A coworker doesn’t respond to a text message. Your boss frowns and uses a certain tone of voice. You are not a finalist for the position. You assume the worst, over-personalize the threat, and jump to conclusions.

Scientists report that living with job uncertainty takes a greater toll on your health than losing your job, making you more vulnerable to disease and worsening existing chronic ailments such as heart disease, diabetes or depression. Studies show that employees who live with job uncertainty have poorer overall health and more depression than employees who actually lose their jobs. Research also shows that uncertainty is more stressful than anticipating inevitable pain. British researchers discovered that study participants who knew for sure they would receive a painful electric shock felt calmer and less agitated than those who were told they had only a 50% chance of receiving the electric shock.

Increase your ‘tolerance for uncertainty’

If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, you will amplify your fear and end up at war with yourself, resisting and discussing your situation, instead of living it. Accepting versus resisting uncertainty is a difficult but counterintuitive task. He The author, Eckhart Tolle saidIf uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it becomes fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it becomes greater vitality, alertness and creativity.”

Studies show that the ability to accept job uncertainty reduces stress and provides peace of mind. Your best defense against communication shortcuts and job uncertainty is to manage job stress by sharpening your Tolerance of uncertainty.

Your mindset in times of uncertainty is your most powerful ally: the only thing you can control in a situation that is out of your control. Uncertainty is scary, but fear, panic, and worry add insult to injury—another layer of stress. Changing your perspective and reminding yourself that many gifts await you in the unknown, which contains many positive and negative outcomes, can be a game-changer. This reframing increases your tolerance for uncertainty, alleviates the waiting period, and brings balance to your brain’s ability to anticipate positive and negative outcomes more evenly.



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