Workplace anxiety

  • Occupational health
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

In this guide, we'll discuss the symptoms of anxiety, its causes, as well as the consequences of anxiety in the workplace

Your employee's mental well-being is just as important as their physical health. Which is why you should support staff members with mental health issues.

If you don't manage the mental health of your employees effectively, you could face discrimination claims and employment tribunals. Not to mention financial loss, and even reputational damage.

In this guide, we'll discuss the symptoms of anxiety, its causes, as well as the consequences of anxiety in the workplace.

What is workplace anxiety?

Workplace anxiety occurs when feelings of chronic stress persist inside and outside of a job. Employees might be unable to swith these feelings off when they come home. Which could negatively affect their personal life.

It's normal for your employees to feel anxious when delivering a big presentation, or managing big projects. But job stress shouldn’t trigger symptoms of anxiety. And results in the poor mental health of your staff members.

Is anxiety considered a disability in the workplace?

Yes, anxiety can be considered a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. The law states that an employer must consider a staff member disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment. Which hinders their ability to perform day-to-day activities, including job responsibilites.

The individual’s mental or physical impairment should have impacted their life long term. For example, twelve months or more. Then the employer can then class it as a disability.

Other mental health conditions the law might protect are: depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, neurodevelopmental disorders, and eating disorders. But this depends on whether they meet the definition of a disability under the law.

Different types of anxiety disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders. And as an employer, you need to be aware of them all.

These include:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder: People with generalised anxiety disorder excessively and persistently worry. These worries usually focus on everyday things, such as appointments or work-related tasks. And usually has an impact on the performance of their daily activities.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety may cause an individual to worry about social situations. As well as the chances of others humiliating, embarrassing, rejecting or looking down upon them. For example, they may feel anxiety at the thought of public speaking.
  • Panic disorder: An individual with this condition suffers from recurring panic attacks. During an anxiety attack, they may sweat, shake, experience chest pain and have shortness of breath. These attacks may be in response to fear. But in some cases, they can happen for no reason.

Physical symptoms of workplace anxiety

Anxiety symptoms present differently in different people. So it's important to have an awareness of them all. Symptoms of anxiety are:

Trouble concentrating and brain fog

Employees with work anxiety may have trouble with concentration. This is because their worries will have a hold on them and their thoughts.

For example, they may struggle to meet deadlines - or lose focus in a meeting - because anxious thoughts are troubling them.

Poor job performance

Work anxiety may also affect your employees' work performance. For example, meeting deadlines and targets could be a big part of a colleague's role. So if they have trouble focusing on their tasks because they feel sick with worry - they may miss them.

This ultimately will affect their work performance as a whole. And without the right support, this might lead them to withdraw and not engage in your workplace.

Low self-esteem and low engagement

Employees with work anxiety may also experience feelings of low self-esteem. For example, an anxiety disorder may make an employee anxious about what their colleagues think of them. And could ultimately make them think less of themselves.

This might result in them doubting their ability to perform tasks. Which could lead to them disengaging with work - due to fear of embarrassment or rejection. For instance, they may no longer raise their hand in a meeting to suggest ideas.

What causes workplace anxiety?

Anxiety in the workplace can be the result of several issues within your business. These include:

Work-related stress

Employees may experience anxiety because of work-related stress. This stress could be directly related to an employee's job responsibilities. Or pressure they may feel at work.

For example, if an employee feels overwhelmed by their job responsibilities. They might spend longer than they usually would completing them.

This could then result in them having a poor work-life balance. And ultimately lead them to experience more stress and anxiety.

A toxic workplace culture

A toxic workplace is a working environment where people perform negative behaviours frequently. These behaviours could include staff gossiping about a co-worker, high employee turnover and team members working through breaks.

Because of these behaviours, employees may then experience stress when thinking about how their co-workers perceive them. As well as experiencing high pressure to perform their role. Consequently, they might develop high levels of mistrust and anxiety at work.

Experiences with previous employers

Anyone will feel nervous when starting a new job. But, if an employee has a particularly negative history with their employers, it may cause them to feel anxious at work.

For example, an employee may have had a bad experience in their previous role. This includes dealing with a difficult boss, or workplace bullying. Because of this, they may feel anxiety towards their job role, their co-workers, and passing their probationary period.

What are the consequences of work-related anxiety?

If you don't manage work-related anxiety effectively, it can create issues within your business. Which might affect your company's efficiency.

These issues are:


Absenteeism is when an employee is frequently absent from work. It usually refers to an employee's lack of attendance, rather than authorised absences and annual leave. Absenteeism is usually the result of an underlying issue - such as stress and anxiety.

For example, your employee may feel nervous to share they are dealing with anxiety symptoms - because your sick policy doesn't include mental health issues. As a result, they may not turn up to work due to this anxiety.

Poor employee engagement and company culture

If your employees are filled with anxiety because of your workplace - they will be less likely to engage with it.

This might include holding back when sharing their thoughts and ideas. And lacking enthusiasm about their progression. If this persists, it can also affect your company culture.

For example, employees with anxiety may only socialise when work requires them to. And miss social events with colleagues due to fears of embarrassment.

High employee turnover

You may have high employee turnover if you don't care for employees with anxiety. High employee turnover usually happens when employers consistently ignore problems at work. Specifically, issues that staff have raised.

For example, if an employer hires a person with anxiety, but doesn't make reasonable adjustments, the employee may leave. This can make it difficult to retain staff. Especially if other employees witness, or are a victim of, discriminatory behaviour at work.

How to reduce anxiety in the workplace

Whilst you can't remove anxiety in the workplace completely, you can take steps to mitigate its effects.

These steps include:

Promote a healthy work-life balance

One step you can take as an employer is to promote a healthy work-life balance. A good work-life balance prioritises the demands of your personal and professional lives equally. Whilst encouraging you to take care of your mental health.

Encouraging employees to have a better work-life balance could prevent work anxiety. This is because your staff will set boundaries between work and home.

This in turn helps them separate their personal and professional lives. And will encourage them to rest at home. Allowing them to refresh before going back to work.

Promote flexible working

Many employers choose to offer flexible hours and remote working which can help reduce workplace anxiety.

This is because offering flexible working gives employees the chance to work when it suits them. And can remove everyday stresses such as long commutes, organising childcare and lack of sleep. Which may be fuelling an employee's anxiety.

Signpost mental health services

Another way to reduce anxiety at work is to signpost professional help. This may involve highlighting information about mental health services. Or providing an outline of coping strategies for those with an anxiety disorder.

For example, breathing exercises that can focus on being in the present moment. Or advice on setting boundaries at work.

You might also wish to promote an employee assistance programme. This initiative usually helps staff to deal with personal problems that are affecting their well-being. The service may also refer to treatment from a mental health professional.

How to support employees experiencing anxiety in the workplace

Like physical conditions - you can manage the symptoms of work anxiety. There are several ways you can help your employees cope with anxiety. This includes:

Make reasonable adjustments

A key part of supporting employees with anxiety is to make reasonable adjustments for them. Whilst it is the law, it can also build a better relationship with your employees with anxiety. And helps them to thrive at work when they have the tools they need.

For example, an employee may ask if they can have an extra computer screen when they work from home. Because it helps them focus more when they are anxious. This could then increase their productivity, and have an overall, positive effect on your business.

Reassess their workload

You could also support anxious employees by revaluating their workload. This might involve going through their responsibilities. And checking if there is anything they feel they are unable to do.

It could also include speaking with those who work closely with them - and seeing if they can pick up any tasks.

Have frequent one-to-ones about mental health

Having regular, one on one meetings with your employees can help mitigate anxiety at work. This is because it helps you build a rapport with your staff members, as they will see you frequently on a more personal level.

It also provides a space for your staff members to voice any concerns they have. This will help you get to the root cause of any anxieties. And help you address any underlying issues they may have.

Communicate effectively

You should make sure that you communicate properly with anxious employees. This includes providing reasoning for any action you take that affects them.

For example, you might need to speak to an employee with anxiety urgently about a work-related task. But if you suggest a quick chat without any further context, it could make your employee's anxiety spiral - as they may assume the worst.

It's best to provide reasons when asking an employee to attend a meeting or do a task spontaneously. This will help them relax, and prevent them from worrying about why you might have asked them.

Get expert advice on workplace anxiety from Peninsula

You should ensure you support employees with anxiety at work. This means knowing the symptoms of work-related stress and anxiety. And having processes in place that mitigate both in the workplace.

If you don't provide reasonable accommodations - or fail to support the mental health of your employees - you're at risk of breaking the law. And could face discrimination claims, financial loss and reputational damage.

Peninsula offers you expert 24/7 HR advice and support, to help you manage and support employees with anxiety at work. As well as advising you on workplace mental health support. Contact us today on 0800 0282 420.


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