Anxiety in the Workplace and Dealing with Employees with Anxiety

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Did you know that mental health problems and anxiety disorders cost employers in the UK £45 billion a year?

This massive cost to businesses is mainly due to a lack of productivity, absences etc. It poses serious questions as to why organisations aren’t doing more to help staff that may be suffering from mental health issues and anxiety in the workplace.

When it all comes down to it, the answer is relatively straightforward – the majority of people struggle to discuss mental health in their personal life, let alone dealing with stress and anxiety at work, as it can be perceived to be too emotional or too complicated.

Workplace stress and anxiety are slowly becoming more prevalent. It is something employers need to consider with all employees as the effects of not managing someone with anxiety at work could have a detrimental impact on the business if not taken seriously or managed correctly.

The Cause And Effects of Workplace Stress and Anxiety for Employees

Employee anxiety is a topic that an employer should never ignore. Anxiety is generally defined as a feeling of worry, fear, nervousness or unease. The causation may vary, but it includes workplace issues such as workload, performance or conflict with co-workers. Personnel issues could also trigger it, such as relationship issues and family or debt problems – which the employee may unintentionally bring into the workplace affecting their work.

As an employer, you can support your staff and look out for signs that an employee may well be suffering from anxiety due to varying issues within the workplace. Things to look out for include:

  • Negative thoughts.
  • They are becoming more emotional or overreacting to what other colleagues may say.
  • Frequent absences from work.
  • Change in behaviour such as low self-esteem or self-isolating.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Physical symptoms such as restlessness.

Managing Anxiety in the Workplace

Consider giving your managers training and information on issues such as anxiety; this will help them in dealing with an employee with anxiety. And support staff that may become suffer from anxiety caused by work pressure at work (or any type of mental illness – stress, depression, etc.). Training, good communication and an open door policy will help employees feel that they can come to their superiors and talk about their issues without feeling like it isn’t going to be taken seriously.

There are several things that managers can do when discussing concerns over an employee’s health:

  • Have any conversation in a private place, away from possible prying eyes.
  • Make sure there will be no interruptions.
  • Ask open questions.
  • See things from the employee’s perspective.

Remember, when managing someone with anxiety at work, illnesses such as anxiety rarely conform to the typical stereotypes and stigma surrounding them. People suffering from anxiety in the workplace could still be cheerful and happy on the outside.

How to Identify an Employee with Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety can affect anyone, and there are a few different kinds that an employee may receive as a diagnosis. An employee with anxiety disorder may suffer one of the following:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder: A person is diagnosed with this when they have felt anxious for a long time. It often makes them fearful, not because of one thing in particular; it could be a culmination of things.

  • Panic Disorder: This is generally when a person is constantly feeling anxious or they feel nervous and afraid of having panic attacks, but no specific triggers are identified.
  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder): This is usually triggered by anxiety, leading to someone feeling, thinking or doing something obsessively.
  • Phobias: This is an intense fear of something, such as a specific situation (meetings at work, for example), that can trigger the person’s anxiety to feel overwhelming.

Good communication and creating a supportive, inclusive environment are vital in assisting employees in dealing with anxiety at work.

Managing Anxious Employees and Workplace Anxiety FAQs

As an employer, how can I tell if an employee struggles with work-related stress and anxiety?

One of the early warning signs that an employee may struggle with work-related stress and anxiety is a change in their sleeping pattern. It can be challenging to gauge unless they share this information with you. Those struggling with anxiety due to work can often lack some engagement and have difficulties concentrating on work-related tasks, leading to a drop in job performance. They may also withdraw from being social with work colleagues when dealing with anxiety at work.

Will an employee with workplace anxiety be less productive for my business?

This will depend on how well managed the employee’s anxiety is. A 2018 study about anxiety in the workplace showed that an employee with well-managed anxiety could be more productive in the workplace because of the tendency to worry. Managing an employee with anxiety is necessary and depending upon the exact diagnosis the employee has received, they should be able to serve your company well and without issue.

How many employees are struggling with anxiety in the workplace?

Over the past couple of years, managing employees with anxiety has become much more of a talking point amongst employers. Employers and employees have seen significant changes in how work gets done, and statistics show that it hasn’t been an easy transition for many. 2020/2021 figures estimated that 822,000 workers struggled with work-related stress and anxiety. In the same period, data shows that 50% of ill health-related work cases were due to stress and anxiety at work. I think it’s fair to say that from these figures alone, managing staff with anxiety in a confidential and understanding manner benefits all parties

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Elena Boura