For some the unknown is exciting and the adrenaline that fear generates is a drug they crave. You only had to watch the TV programme earlier in the week about people who jump off buildings to appreciate that. For others the unknown has a more disabling impact and it’s for these people that I want to share, with permission, a friend’s story.

In March a sequence of events started for her which led to the development of many of the common symptoms of stress. As the weeks progressed that stress increased – lack of sleep, pacing at 3 in the morning, anxiety on waking and throughout the day, replaying of numerous worse case scenarios  and more recently lack of appetite. These symptoms were disabling at times – meetings cancelled, colleagues let down, less than productive days. As the weeks merged into months some colleagues started to avoid her or find alternate means of getting work done. She certainly wasn’t a very chirpy person to be around.

A week ago she called as she’s been given a glimpse of a reason behind the events and suddenly the symptoms of stress had disappeared. It was only then she realised that it wasn’t the events that were happening to her that were causing the stress but the fact she didn’t know why they were happening. Without a logical and explainable reason behind the events she had nothing but speculation to work on – and when given half a chance she can certainly write a great disaster movie. Knowing the reason won’t change much of the situation but what it has done is enable her to understand what she has to deal with. In turn this knowledge enables her to consider an appropriate action plan.

For my friend it was a health issue she was dealing with and so perhaps difficult to differentiate between the ‘illness’ and ‘stress’ like symptoms. However for me it brought back memories of when I was involved in the merger of procurement teams between Halifax and Bank of Scotland. Mori opinion polls at the end of the first year suggested we did communicate and involve everyone. Yet from conversations I know we could have done more. It’s easy to make the wrong decisions when as a leadership team you believe you have the best interests of the team at heart. You know you’ll be thinking about them when making decisions. You also believe that knowing the facts will generate more stress. However it’s not knowing the facts that often enables the scripts to be written for the personal disaster movies – even bigger disasters if there’s a few script writers.

It shocked my friend how much not knowing had impacted her health. Therefore I’d like to encourage everyone to consider the impact not knowing may have on your teams and the potential knock on effect on their performance and ability to work effectively as a team. Times of change are when we need our teams to be at their most not least effective – we just need to remember how we can help.