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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

4 Times You’re Too Worried at Work (and 4 Times You’re Not Worried Enough)

If something slightly out of the ordinary happened at work—for instance, your manager called an impromptu team meeting—what would be your first reaction?

A. Assume the entire department is getting laid off
B. Wonder if this has anything to do with the rumors you recently heard about a new vacation policy
C. Speculate how big of a bonus you’re going to be awarded in front of your peers

If you picked A, you may very well be a competent, levelheaded employee—but you also tend to worry a little (or a lot) more than usual.

If you picked C, you’re probably on the optimistic side. The problem is, you might not worry enough—even if all the signs are there.

To avoid help you hit the middle road between overconfidence and unfounded anxiety, consider these situations where you’re probably worrying too much—and a few where you might not be worrying enough.

1. Your Boss Schedules a Meeting With You—With No Clear Purpose

It’s a moment that can cause a mini heart attack if you’re prone to office paranoia: Your boss requests a one-on-one meeting—completely out of the blue and with no other purpose than “We need to talk.”

Immediately, your mind jumps to the worst-case scenario: “I’m obviously getting fired.”

It’s easy to assume the worst. But it’s also very unlikely that with absolutely no prompting or prior warning, that your boss is going to pull you into his or her office and tell you to pack your things and go. Is it possible? Sure. But in all reality, your excessive worrying is probably disproportionate to the situation.

Unless You’ve Been Called Out Before

Have you been receiving informal warnings from your boss lately? Maybe last week, she stopped by your desk to ask about a report that’s past due, then emailed you a few days alter reminding you that she really needs that report by the end of the day. And then, when you missed that deadline, she asked you to team up with a colleague so you could work together to get it done.

Spread over a couple weeks, these warnings probably just seemed like regular workday stresses. But if something has become a recurring issue—and now you’re being called into the boss’ office—you may be in for a more formal warning.

2. You Made a Major Mistake

It’s happened to everyone. You’re typically a stellar employee, but one day, you mess up at work—big time. You overcharged a client, completely forgot about a big assignment and subsequently missed the deadline, or botched the numbers on a report that was the basis for the next quarter’s budget. You’re certainly getting fired for this, right?

OK, your mistake may have some consequences. You may have made yourself, your boss, or your department look bad—and you’ll probably need to do some damage control. But if you have an even somewhat reasonable boss, he or she will be willing to guide you through a resolution.

Why? Because everyone makes mistakes. And especially if this is out of character for you and wasn’t done intentionally, it’s probably not going to be reason enough to give you the boot. As long as you learn from it—and figure out a way to never do it again—you’re going to be fine.

Unless Your Company or Boss Is Historically Unreasonable

Of course, every company is different. And if your particular company has a track record of going completely ballistic on employees who make mistakes—i.e., walking them out the door with no system of strikes or warnings—or your boss has no patience for any kind of error, you may have more cause to worry.

3. Everyone Was Invited Except You

You log on Facebook over the weekend, and you see a string of pictures from your colleague’s barbeque, filled with the faces of almost all of your co-workers—except you. Or a group of your teammates get up and head to lunch together on Friday afternoon without a glance your way.

Immediately, it’s clear to you that everyone hates you, you don’t fit in, and eventually, you’re going to be forced out by personality differences.

Except, it was probably a one-off situation. Maybe your teammates went to lunch to discuss a particular project. Maybe the host of the barbeque is closer with your other co-workers than she is with you. You don’t have to get invited to everything. And you certainly can’t let it make you worry excessively.

Unless It’s Happening All the Time

If you literally never get invited to a single lunch, coffee, or happy hour, there may be cause for concern.

For example, maybe everyone has the impression that you’re a workaholic and would never leave your desk to go grab lunch, even if you were invited. Or you’ve said “no” so many times that no one bothers to invite you anymore. Or you simply don’t show interest in you co-workers’ lives by asking questions or chatting during breaks, so you haven’t really developed any friendships.

Sure, you probably won’t get fired for not socializing with your team, but it could point to a different problem—like a practically nonexistent work-life balance.

4. Your Boss Takes a Project Off Your Plate

Let’s say you’ve been working on a certain project for what seems like forever. You always write the weekly company newsletter. It’s been that way since you started with the company three years ago.

Until your boss lets you know that he’s taking that newsletter off your plate and assigning it to your co-worker.

Does your boss think you’re incompetent? That you’ve been doing a terrible job with the newsletter? That he needs to transition all your work so he can fire you, but still have someone to cover your responsibilities?

Actually, probably not. In most cases, your boss likely has good intentions—like he thinks you’ve grown beyond a certain project and are ready to take on something more advanced. Or maybe he wants you to get away from the task so you can transition into a managerial role and mentor the person who was assigned to take it over.

Unless You’re Actually Not Benefitting in the End

However, there may be cause to be worried if you don’t see any benefit—ever. So your boss takes a project off your plate, but doesn’t ever replace it. You stay in the same role, with no additional responsibilities. And then he takes another project away, followed by another.

While you may momentarily enjoy the lightened load and extra free time, it may be a sign that you’re not performing well or your role is no longer needed.

In most cases, worrying excessively in these situations is probably only causing you unneeded stress. However, you also shouldn’t ignore the writing on the wall. Strike the right balance between the two, and you’ll be just fine.

Photo of worried person courtesy of Shutterstock.