Employee mental health is an increasing area of concern for organizations, as a massive 83% of US workers report suffering from work-related stress. When it comes to anxiety specifically, around 28% of adults in the United States report experiencing symptoms of anxiety over a given 2-week period.
As employers, managers, and coworkers, what can we do to support anxious employees in the workplace?
This article will suggest practical suggestions for managing employee anxiety at work, as well as offer some background information on the causes and signs of anxiety in the workplace. Let’s jump right in.
Understanding anxiety in the workplace
What causes anxiety in the workplace?
Anxiety in the workplace comes in two key forms: work-related anxiety and anxiety that enters the workplace. What that means is that workplaces can be both the cause of anxiety and the place in which anxieties about other parts of life play out.
Anxiety that is directly linked to an employee’s place of work is often tied to:
- Concerns about work performance (work performance anxiety)
- Poor quality interpersonal relationships in the workplace
- Self-doubt or imposter syndrome
- An antagonistic relationship with a boss, manager, or coworker
- Unrealistic deadlines
- Maintaining a work-life balance (expectations of overtime, unsociable hours, etc.)
- A lack of a sense of purpose at work
- Inadequate professional development and support
- A toxic workplace environment
How to spot an anxious employee
There are many signs that an employee might be struggling with anxiety in the workplace. Symptoms of anxiety at work can include:
- Appear disengaged or disinterested in their work
- Be less productive than normal
- Be irritable or easily stressed
- Appear fatigued or lacking in energy or motivation
- Show less enthusiasm about their work, or tasks they used to enjoy
- Be hesitant about taking on new projects or responsibilities
- Struggle to concentrate or focus
- Appear worried or distracted
- Have a negative self-image
- Avoid work social events
- Need more time off (including for appointments or sick leave)
How common is anxiety in the workplace?
Anxiety in the workplace is more common than you might think.
Not only are anxiety disorders common within the general population, but 25% of US workers state that their job is their number one source of stress. Pressure to perform, a sense of urgency, and high targets – combined with generalized anxiety or outside factors – can easily stack up to create feelings of anxiety at work.
Remember – even if your team seems to be managing well on the surface, it’s always worth checking in with employees to see how they’re doing.
Strategies to support anxious employees at work
So – as workplaces move to prioritize employee mental health and well-being, how can they best do so?
Lyra Health, a leading provider of workplace mental health solutions, comments that “what’s required is a new way of thinking about supporting workforce mental health—one that recognizes it as both a moral imperative and a core strategy to sustain employers’ most vital resource—their people.”
If you find yourself managing (or working alongside) anxious employees in your workplace, the following strategies can be a great place to start in offering them support.
Set clear expectations and boundaries
The first way in which you can support anxious employees (as well as employees in general) is by setting clear expectations about the scope of their roles and responsibilities.
This could look like providing detailed instructions before an employee takes on a new task or project, or written documentation outlining their role, contracted hours, and the tasks they will be responsible for. This is particularly important near the start of an employee’s employment and can take place as a part of employee onboarding.
Similarly, setting clear and appropriate boundaries can also help to decrease employee anxiety.
Violet Dhu at Corporate Communication Experts comments: “Boundaries help establish connection among employees, allowing them to focus on their roles and respect those who are in a higher and lower position.”
Appropriate boundaries can help to manage expectations, build a culture of trust, and encourage good communication in the workplace.
Specific boundaries will vary based on your workplace, role, and preferences, but might be centered around the following:
- Workload, work distribution, and delegation
- Physical boundaries around the use of shared space and equipment
- Communication types, styles, and frequency
- Availability outside of the office or set working hours
Create a welcoming environment with an open-door policy
Maintaining an open-door policy can be a powerful tool in reducing employee anxiety.
When employees know they have the freedom to approach their managers with concerns, questions, or feedback, it helps foster an environment of trust and openness. By actively encouraging open communication, you create an environment where employees can feel valued, heard, and supported.
This can have a profound impact on reducing anxiety levels, as employees are more likely to share their worries or seek guidance when they know their concerns will be taken seriously.
However, some employees might find it difficult to approach you with their concerns, even with an open-door policy. For this reason, it’s important to proactively initiate check-ins with your team (either 1:1 or as a group) regularly. This offers anxious employees a direct prompt to raise concerns or seek support, without having to take that first step.
Challenge employee perfectionism – and your own!
The pressure to perform perfectly can be enough to make anybody anxious, regardless of their role, experience, or status at work.
While the drive to perfectionism can be a powerful motivator, contributing to career success and innovation, it can also cause unnecessary anxiety – even to a counterproductive degree.
As you work with anxious employees, it’s important to recognize the role that unspoken standards of perfectionism might be influencing their mental health at work. Work with employees to distinguish between tasks in which they might have breathing room to adjust their standards, and areas in which their perfectionistic streak might prove beneficial! Encourage anxious employees to consider the bigger picture and to gain perspective by seeking the feedback and insights of their peers.
Finally, be aware of how your own perfectionistic tendencies might be influencing the culture in your workplace.
Promote flexible working and a work-life balance
Offering flexible, hybrid, or remote working can be a great way to decrease anxiety in the workplace, as it often helps to offset worries about childcare, commuting, and other logistical challenges to working in person. With 81% of employees valuing the opportunity to have flexible work options, having a flexible work policy is becoming increasingly important for the modern business.
What’s more, an emphasis on tasks completed – rather than hours spent working – can help to boost employee productivity while decreasing boredom and anxiety. Other ways you can support employees to cultivate a healthy work-life balance include:
- Encouraging employees to take their assigned breaks
- Regularly reviewing their workloads and adjusting as needed
- Offer more time off, where possible
- Review your maternity, paternity, and adoption leave policies
- Check in with your employees about their thoughts on their work-life balance
- Lead by a good example!
Equip employees to manage workplace anxiety with VODIUM
Supporting employees in the workplace can be a challenge – and even more so when your team is working remotely.
VODIUM’s virtual teleprompter app helps you to set your remote team up for success by giving employees a much-needed confidence boost as they give virtual presentations.
To find out more about how you can support someone with anxiety, or to start your free trial of VODIUM’s teleprompter, reach out to VODIUM today.