Anxiety at Work

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

(Last updated )

In this guide, we'll discuss anxiety at work, what the symptoms look like, and how to reduce anxiety among staff.

It's normal to feel anxious from time to time. But, if your staff experience chronic stress, as well as feeling nervous about attending work, they might have anxiety.

Unmanageable anxiety at work can cause issues for both your business and most importantly, your employees. Failure to support them could result in your workplace experiencing high levels of absenteeism.

In this guide, we'll discuss anxiety at work, what the symptoms look like, and how to reduce anxiety among staff.

What is anxiety at work?

Anxiety at work is when an employee experiences high-stress levels inside and outside of their job. This can lead them to have anxious thoughts and feel nervous attending the workplace.

An anxious employee's worries might centre around their professional life; specifically, their job performance and ability to complete workplace duties. If their anxieties are work-related, it could be an indication that they’re struggling with their job. This could be because of a:

  • Difficult boss.
  • Issues with a co-worker.
  • Workload that feels overwhelming.

But, workplace anxiety could also be the result of existing mental health issues, and problems in an individual's personal life. Ultimately, both negatively affect an employee's overall work performance. This is because they're likely less satisfied at work, feel overwhelmed by their workload, and fail to meet deadlines.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

The symptoms of anxiety vary from person to person. But most commonly, anxious individuals will persistently feel sick with worry.

Let's take a look at some other physical symptoms of anxiety.

Panic attacks

One of the most prominent symptoms of anxiety is panic attacks. A panic attack (also known as an anxiety attack) is a feeling of sudden, intense anxiety and fear. During an attack, an individual might have:

  • Feelings of impending doom.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Rapid heart palpitations.

Most panic attacks last a few minutes to half an hour. It's also possible for sufferers to have several attacks back to back.

Brain fog

Another symptom of anxiety is brain fog. This occurs when a person is anxious and has trouble concentrating or thinking clearly.

Staff suffering from brain fog might not feel motivated to complete their work-related tasks, as they may struggle to focus on performing one action at a time.

Low self-esteem

Anxiety sufferers might also experience feelings of low self-esteem. This could be a result of worrying about how others perceive them.

Employees with low self-esteem might have less confidence in their work, and spend more time on the finer details. As a result, they might take longer to complete tasks.

Is anxiety a disability?

Yes, anxiety is considered a disability under The Equality Act 2010 – but this depends on a number of factors. This piece of legislation protects individuals from discrimination. Under the act, anxiety qualifies as a disability if it lasts 12 months or more – or is likely to. It must also affect the sufferer's ability to complete everyday tasks, such as interacting with others.

The legislation also states that employers have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled staff members. For example, if an employee with anxiety finds commuting at rush hour stressful, a reasonable accommodation an employer could make is to allow them to start and finish later (if possible).

If they don't, the employer risks breaching the act. Consequently, the staff member could raise a discrimination claim against them to an employment tribunal.

What are the types of anxiety disorders?

There are several types of anxiety disorders that you should be aware of, so you know how to support an employee that suffers from one. These are:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Individuals in your workplace might also suffer from phobia-related disorders. This is where people have an overwhelming need to avoid contact with the source of their phobia. For example, a person with a phobia of public speaking might fear attending work when they have to deliver a big presentation.

What causes anxiety at work?

There are several causes of anxiety at work. For example, if employees have a lack of job security, they'll feel anxious about being made redundant, as well as their financial wellbeing.

Let's explore some other causes of workplace anxiety.

Existing mental health conditions

Existing mental illness can cause or increase work anxiety. Those who live with or experience anxiety in their personal life might find their anxieties creeping into their professional life.

If they are consistently worrying about problems in their personal life, they may concentrate less on their workload. As a result, this could affect their workplace productivity and ability to complete tasks.

Work-related stress

Another root cause of anxiety in the workplace is overall job stress. It's normal for people to feel anxiety about some subjects regarding work. For example, if they've just started a new job.

But, if an employee feels they have an overwhelming workload or an unsupportive team, they might have unmanageable levels of anxiety. Consequently, they might fear attending the workplace, which could result in high levels of absenteeism.

Toxic workplace culture

A toxic workplace culture can also contribute to work anxiety. This type of work environment will have increased levels of gossip, workplace conflict, and co-workers who have trouble working in a team. All of this can result in poor employee conduct, such as:

If your workplace has a toxic atmosphere, some employees might feel dread when attending. Consequently, they'll have increased levels of anxiety - and likely have problems performing in their role.

How to deal with anxiety in the workplace

Like physical conditions, there are ways you can help staff manage their anxiety. For example, you might wish to offer flexible working.

This will give employees a greater sense of control over their professional lives, as they don't need to comply with rigid working times. Consequently, it might alleviate stress.

Here are some other steps you can take to help staff deal with work-related anxiety.

Make reasonable accommodations

One way you should support employees with anxiety is by making reasonable adjustments. As mentioned, these are legally required if the employee is disabled. But, if an employee is struggling in general, it's advisable they’re made.

Not all adjustments will be reasonable depending on the scale and revenue of your business. But, most adjustments will be simpler to implement. Some examples include:

  • Adjusting an employee's working times.
  • Allowing an employee to hybrid work.
  • Providing a more comfortable desk set-up.

Overall, making workplace accommodations builds a better rapport with you and your employees. They'll trust that you're willing to support them. And that you're willing to do everything you reasonably can to ensure they're comfortable at work. As a result, it might help to mitigate their workplace anxiety.

Promote mental health awareness

Another way you can support staff with workplace anxiety is to promote mental health awareness. Mental health awareness encourages individuals to develop healthier behaviours. It also helps them understand how they can take care of their wellbeing.

Mental health awareness can look like a number of things, such as:

  • Signposting where staff can receive professional help for mental health issues.
  • Encouraging staff to take a short break if they feel anxious or overwhelmed.
  • Training staff in mental health; for example, how to spot signs of poor mental health.

Mostly, mental health awareness at work is about letting staff know it's okay for them to experience periods of poor mental wellbeing. It also means ensuring they know they can approach you in times of difficulty.

Highlight coping strategies

You can also support those with anxiety by highlighting coping strategies. They can help people cope with physical symptoms of anxiety. And are beneficial as they can provide immediate relief when work might feel overwhelming.

Examples of coping strategies include:

  • Meditation and deep breathing exercises: These help staff relax and ground themselves in the present moment. Not to mention, it can help your employees cope with work-related stress by refocusing their attention on something calming.
  • Physical exercise: Encouraging staff to move more can help release endorphins, which relieves pain and creates a general feeling of wellbeing. This can also improve their physical health. One way you could do so is by hosting exercise classes at work.
  • Practising self-care: You can also help staff by encouraging them to practise self-care. Self-care is anything employees can do to take care of themselves and increase their happiness. For example, it might be doing stuff they love such as reading, or spending time with family.

It's also important to offer tips on how staff can maintain a healthy diet and adequate sleep hygiene. Both are important in helping them feel refreshed and ready to work. And ultimately, all help relieve symptoms of anxiety.

Have frequent catch-ups with employees

Having frequent catch-ups with employees will also help reduce their workplace anxiety. If you're a smaller business, you might be able to do this yourself. But if you have a bigger operation, have line managers conduct one-to-ones with their direct reports.

Communication is a key part of uncovering your staff's feelings about their job and their overall work performance. For example, if an employee has an issue with their co-workers, they might not feel comfortable sharing the problem with you. As a result, the conflict may worsen and affect their work.

By creating an environment where you welcome staff approaching you with issues, they'll bring any concerns to you sooner. Consequently, you'll be able to resolve their problems quicker, which will prevent further workplace issues from occurring.

Use an EAP

Another way you can manage workplace anxiety is by using an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). An EAP is a workplace intervention programme, which helps staff during times of personal trouble. If an employee is struggling, they can contact the EAP and get professional support.

Whilst employees might be able to voice any issues they have to a close friend or family member, a mental health professional can offer a plan to resolve their issue. For instance, they could refer them to a counselling service.

Sometimes, personal issues outside of work can affect our performance. So, helping staff when times get tough creates a workplace culture that prioritises wellbeing. Consequently, employees will have more trust in you and have increased satisfaction at work.

Get expert advice on anxiety at work from Peninsula

Ensure you support employees with anxiety in the workplace. This means alleviating work-related stress and having frequent catch-ups with staff.

Failure to manage their workplace anxiety could have severe consequences. For example, if you don't make reasonable adjustments for an anxious employee who is legally disabled, it could result in claims to an employment tribunal.

As a result, your business might face paying compensation, and even reputational damage. Peninsula offers independent advice on anxiety in the workplace. Our teams provide 24/7 Health & Safety advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our Health & Safety experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 028 2420 and book a free consultation with a Health & Safety consultant today.



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