Managing an Employee with Workplace Anxiety

When employees experience anxiety it can negatively affect performance. Workplace anxiety is an often overlooked , stress-related illness, burnout, and employee churn, and it may be more prevalent than you realize. U.S. workers experience some of the highest levels of stress in the world and it’s costing employers billions in lost revenue.

Sometimes informally referred to unofficially as “work anxiety disorder” anxiety can affect employee performance in two ways:

  1. Workers can experience anxiety that is centered on work and work performance, which in its most extreme form can lead to work phobia.
  2. Other forms of anxiety can affect workers’ health and productivity in the workplace.

In either case, providing robust mental health benefits, promoting work-life balance, and implementing zero-tolerance policies when it comes to workplace harassment and bullying can help offset the costly consequences of work-related anxiety.

What Is Workplace Anxiety?

Work phobia (ergophobia) is an anxiety disorder that manifests as stress related to work functions, such as a fear of public speaking or making mistakes. Pre-work anxiety can cause employees to feel excessive worry about future events or situations, including project deadlines or returning to the office after a long absence.

Whatever form it takes, anxiety is a mental health disorder protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and as such it needs to be handled with sensitivity and, where appropriate, accommodation.

Causes of Work-related Anxiety

Monster’s Future of Work Outlook survey revealed high levels of work-related anxiety, especially for women, who are more likely to work in customer-facing roles or in highly stressful industries like healthcare. Women also tend to shoulder more responsibilities at home and are more likely to face workplace harassment and bullying.

Other causes of work anxiety include performance reviews, deadlines, work travel, and presentations, especially if they involve public speaking in front of large groups.

How Managers Can Help Employees With Workplace Anxiety

There are a number of best practices you can put into practice to address and even prevent anxiety in your workforce.

  • Get to the root cause. You don’t want to pry into the lives of your employees, but if the source of your worker’s anxiety is a problem in the workplace, you need to let your employee know that they can tell you about it.  Once you know the answer, you can begin addressing the problem.
  • Be supportive during times of transition. Be prepared for employees to experience workplace anxiety after periods of long absence, such as a return to on site work after a period of working remotely. Allow them to ease back into the flow of work gradually.
  • Be aware of the signs. Frequent absence or a tendency to dwell on worst-case scenarios are often indicators of anxiety. Be aware that talented employees sometimes turn down promotions due to anxiety related to public speaking or business travel.
  • Destigmatize mental health concerns. Talk about mental health resources with your managers and teams, make sure your policies regarding mental health are prominently featured on your employee web site and other HR materials, and make clear that there will be no penalty for employees who ask for help.
  • Make reasonable accommodations. If possible, offer childcare assistance or flexible scheduling options to workers struggling with childcare needs. Allow employees to slip out of large meetings to take a breather if needed or modify their workloads during periods of crisis.

Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace

Some management styles work better than others to mitigate potential workplace anxiety. A leadership style that emphasizes the value employees bring to the workplace and that employs mentoring and empathy to optimize innovation can help prevent workplace anxiety.

Maintain a Professional Demeanor

Discourage gossip and urge workers to remain professionally focused and cordial at all times. An overly casual workplace can devolve into a setting where inappropriate humor and even offensive behavior becomes the norm. Not only is this likely to undermine professionalism, but it can also be perceived as an overly permissive environment where harassment and bullying are tolerated.

Be Transparent

Keeping your workforce informed about your company’s fiscal health can stem gossip, alleviate fear based on uncertainty, and foster a sense of belonging.

Set Boundaries

Make sure your employees know you endorse work-life balance by adhering to a reasonable work schedule, taking vacation and PTO, and refraining from checking email during your off hours. This sends the message to your employees that they can, and should, disconnect from their work and nurture other aspects of their lives.

Audit Staffing Levels Frequently

An impossible workload is a common cause of stress. Overworked employees will often strive to meet your expectations until they reach a breaking point and workplace anxiety sets in. Adequate staffing levels will pay off in reduced absenteeism and increased retention in the long term.

Create Quality Control Measures

No one is perfect. Collaboration improves work quality, whereas expecting perfection without it is a sure way to foster a stress-inducing workplace. Instead, create a work environment where quality control mechanisms ensure that everyone’s work is vetted and where occasional mistakes are an expected part of the process.

Check in Often

Conduct wellness surveys, sponsor talks by mental health experts, and have frontline managers check in on employee stress levels during 1:1 meetings. Wellness surveys should not only take the pulse of employees’ mental health, but they should also try to ascertain whether your employees know what mental health resources are available to them.

Provide a Variety of Supports

In addition to healthcare plans with robust mental health benefits, consider investing in an employee assistance program (EAP) that includes a generous number of free therapy sessions per year. But don’t stop there. You can also provide opportunities for your employees to take part in activities that promote mental health, such as access to reduced rate health club membership, employee resource groups, or brown bag lunches featuring nutritionists, sleep experts, or other wellness experts.

Encourage Adequate Breaks

Finally, encourage employees to take breaks and disengage. Provide access to water, herbal tea, and healthy snacks in your break room. Sponsor a lunchtime walking club or opportunities for paid community hours where employees can spend time together working on charitable endeavors and building meaningful connections.

Take a break from dwelling on the challenges ahead by taking time out to highlight your employees’ accomplishments. Make your workplace a site of collaboration, creativity, and, when needed, support and compassion.

Learn More Tips to Help Reduce Workplace Anxiety and Increase Employee Retention

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