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Navigating Anxiety in the Workplace: How to Support Your Employee's Mental Wellness

Tips to better support employees dealing with anxiety.

This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing distress and need further support or you have clinical needs, please contact your healthcare provider, and never disregard professional medical or mental health advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read here.

There is a plethora of stressors that impact how employees feel in the workplace. short-staffed teams due to layoffs and budget cuts, growing team responsibilities, policy changes in the workforce, etc., can lead to increased anxiety, fear, and burnout. While we all experience anxiety from time to time, increased stressors can negatively impact employees who already have anxiety concerns. Employees with anxiety may not exhibit any visible symptoms. As a result, employers aren't likely to have an accurate understanding of how many of their employees are coping with  anxiety concerns. 

 Recent world events have increased the focus on mental health, and employees want their employers to care about their mental health. In fact, 73% of employers and 81% of managers indicated they would be more likely to stay at a company that offered high-quality resources for mental health care. This means it’s imperative for employers to understand how anxiety affects their employees and how to support them in the workplace.

Understanding Anxiety

Everyone experiences stress, fear, worry, concern, and other types of feelings associated with anxiety. These emotions and related physical symptoms are part of the body's fight or flight response that helps us navigate emergencies. 

As with many mental health concerns, anxiety lies on a spectrum. For some people these feelings can be  extreme, persistent, and lead to impairments in their ability to function which are sometimes referred to as anxiety disorders.  . 

, Anxiety is very common. Globally, anxiety disorders are the sixth leading cause of disability, and 18% of American adults are affected by them with a much higher percentage of adults reporting sub-clinical anxiety concerns.

Anxiety symptoms vary widely, and people often find different ways of coping, making these concerns particularly hard to detect. Physical symptoms may include sweating, trembling, increased heart rate, difficulty speaking, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Psychological and behavioral symptoms may be subtle and include difficulty controlling worrying, decreased energy, easily triggered anger, nervousness, and difficulty with  organization and planning skills.

It's important to recognize that anxiety isn't a result of a specific personality trait or poor coping skills. Genetics, environmental factors, and certain medical conditions are associated with anxiety disorders. People develop anxiety-related concerns at different ages from a complex set of risk factors. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet, only 36.9% of those affected receive treatment.

What Causes Workplace Anxiety?

While there are many underlying causes of anxiety, workplace conditions can create environmental factors that increase symptoms temporarily or cause chronic strain. Chronic stress in the workplace can lead to employee burnout which is associated with anxiety and increased turnover. 

Some of the most common causes of anxiety in the workplace include:

  • Heavy workloads: Employees often face unmanageable workloads due to short-staffed teams or overly high expectations from supervisors.
  • Lack of communication: Poor communication leaves employees unsure of their responsibilities and without the resources to effectively complete required tasks.
  • Long working hours: Long hours and odd schedules can contribute to poor sleeping habits exacerbating anxiety symptoms and impacting work-life balance.
  • Micromanaging: Micromanaged employees often feel not trusted or valued by their employer. 
  • Conflicts with teammates: Unfair treatment, miscommunications about responsibilities, and even personal disagreements can lead to increased anxiety in the workplace.
  • External factors: It's impossible to leave external concerns (recurrent exposure to traumatic events like mass shootings, financial issues, family matters, etc.) at the door because we show up as our whole selves to work. Such cases can lead to increased anxiety.

What Are the Consequences of Anxiety at the Workplace?

The symptoms of anxiety affect each employee individually. However, the cumulative effects of stress can also have significant consequences for businesses. 

Consider how these symptoms can impact workplace performance:

  • Loss of sleep: Sleep deficiency is linked to heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. These conditions will likely lead to increased absenteeism and higher health costs for employers. Excessive tiredness can also lead to poor work performance and increased errors.
  • Excessive errors: Presenteeism, exhaustion, and high-stress levels can lead to increased mistakes and slow production times. 
  • A general decline in health: Anxiety includes physical symptoms that affect an employee's immediate health. It is also associated with  long-term health risks, resulting in increased absences and higher health costs. 
  • Lack of ability to maintain relationships at work: Collaboration is critical for innovation and high-performance levels. Teams are less likely to offer peak performance when anxiety interferes with workplace relationships.
  • A decline in the quality of workplace culture: Poor relationships and low engagement can affect workplace culture, which impacts all employees. Declining workplace culture can result in low production and retention rates.
  • Decrease in job satisfaction: Companies that fail to address workplace stressors risk losing employees due to poor job satisfaction. Half of employees believe that work has become too stressful, and two-thirds are considering leaving their jobs because employers haven't followed through on promises to prioritize mental health.

How to Support Someone Dealing With Anxiety

Whether you're aware that employees on your team are experiencing anxiety or are concerned that workplace conditions may not meet the needs of your employees, learning more about anxiety can help. By taking the following steps to understand anxiety symptoms, eliminate stigma surrounding mental health, and provide support, you can build a more inclusive workplace culture. 

Research the Symptoms

By learning more about anxiety symptoms, you can more easily identify how your workplace may be affecting employees’ anxiety. By arming yourself with knowledge about how anxiety presents in the workplace, you can delegate tasks in ways that are less likely to make employees uncomfortable and help employees enhance their strenghts and work on weaknesses.  

Eliminate the Stigma By Talking About It

Nearly one-third of Americans worried about others judging them when they sought mental health services. Over a fifth of the population lied to avoid telling people they were seeking mental health services. Create a culture that encourages group discussions about mental health and hold regular one-on-one conversations so team members will have opportunities to reach out for support.

Be Mindful of the Anxiety

A healthy work environment challenges team members without making them uncomfortable. Anxiety creates discomfort in certain situations. By being mindful of the conditions that trigger your team members' anxiety, you can help them meet their goals without creating situations that heighten tension.

Be Encouraging

People with anxiety can meet new goals, make changes in their routines, and navigate challenging situations. Act as a champion who helps employees with anxiety test their limits and gain confidence with each new milestone. Encourage open communication so they will be comfortable approaching you with personal concerns or issues that intensify their anxiety.

Free Report on The ROI of Mental Health Benefits

Well-Being Strategies for Employees With Anxiety

Anxiety is common under occasional stress. However, daily anxiety can significantly impact the overall well-being of your employees and the workplace environment. 

Luckily, creating a supportive work environment is possible. By establishing these well-being strategies for all employees, including those with anxiety, you can enhance your overall workplace culture and improve retention.

Create a Friendly Environment

Developing a company culture that promotes open conversation and empathy can provide a more supportive environment for all. Provide education surrounding mental health care to reduce stigma. Encourage employees to discuss personal experiences when they feel comfortable doing so and create an open dialogue about existing or new benefits they would like to see.

Have an Open-Door Policy

As a manager, employer, or supervisor, creating one-to-one relationships with each employee is essential. Develop a schedule that creates time for routine conversations and make sure employees always know you're accessible.

Maintain a Healthy Expectation Level 

Employees with anxiety have goals and are capable of testing their limits. Encourage personal and professional growth by setting healthy expectations and challenges that are reasonable.

Encourage Flexibility

Flexible work hours and deadlines can help reduce anxiety and promote a less stressful  environment. Consider the benefits of remote or hybrid work and adjustable hours to make employees more comfortable.

Give Constructive Feedback

Feedback is essential for both growth and reassurance. Constructive feedback can help employees learn more about their responsibilities and ways to improve their weaknesses. Praise for a job well done builds confidence and encourages employees with anxiety to move beyond their comfort zone.

Offer Support 

Empathy and understanding can help employees feel a sense of belonging and avoid isolation-related stressors. Let them know you're available to help them navigate challenges and find the necessary resources to deal with anxiety.

Introduce Mental Health Benefits and Well-Being Programs

Mental health benefits that extend beyond traditional employee assistance programs (EAPs) can give your employees the resources and tools they need to manage anxiety. The advantages provided by these benefits can also make employees more likely to stay at your company. For example, mental health benefits provided by Modern Health have proven to positively impact retention, with rates 5.5% higher amongst employees who engaged with Modern Health services versus those who did not.

Anxiety in the workplace is more common than most employees realize, and it can significantly impact your business. However, the policies and benefits you put in place to reduce workplace anxiety can have an even bigger impact on your company culture and employee retention. 

Understanding and addressing anxiety is critical to developing a healthy modern workplace. If you’d like to learn more about supporting your diverse employee population, feel free to reach out to one our experts who can assist you. 

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Gabriella Chavarin

Gabriella Chavarin is Head of Content Marketing at Modern Health, a global mental health platform that helps keep employees healthy & resilient. Previously, Gabriella worked as a Marketing Manager for a national health payer organization, and she brings a wealth of healthcare and marketing experience to the Modern Health team.