Anxiety at Work

David Price – CEO of Health Assured

May 18 2016

Workplace anxiety is a common issue for many organisations. Identifying triggers and eliminating risks can be challenging on any level.

As an employer, it is your legal responsibility to support your employees' health & safety–and this includes their mental wellbeing.

If an employee suffers from a mental health issue such as anxiety, you need to support them appropriately.

Neglecting them means you could indirectly discriminate them; and this can lead to compensation penalties and business damages.

In this guide, we'll discuss what anxiety is, common symptoms, and how to help employees manage it during work.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is when a person feels a sense of uneasiness, worry, or fear. These feelings may arise without warning. Some people can suffer short bouts of anxiety; other times it can lead to breathing attacks and temporary paralysis.

Anxiety can make employees feel like their life is spinning out of control and can seriously harm their job performance.

Anxiety is often confused with stress. Workplace anxiety is different from work-related stress. Stress is usually triggered by deadlines and handling demanding tasks, whereas anxiety is the body's response to stress.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

There are several examples of symptoms a person can feel when they are anxious. For example:

  • Excessive or unreasonable worrying.
  • Heightened startle reflex.
  • Tiredness or exhaustion.
  • Feeling a lump in their throat.
  • Shivering or shaking.

Workplace anxiety can have a significant impact on a person's professional life. Anxious employees may even make career decisions based on their anxiety.

For example, if a promotion requires more management or public speaking, an employee who is feeling anxious may reject it.

A person feeling uncomfortable.

What causes anxiety at work?

It's common for employees to have brief nervousness before important work events. An example of something that might make someone feel nervous is starting a new job or leaving an old one.

Anxiety may be caused by a variety of work environment elements. Here are a few examples of what can cause workplace anxiety:

  • Toxic workplace culture.
  • Excessive workloads.
  • Having difficulties meeting deadlines.
  • Working under a demanding or difficult boss.
  • Having trouble concentrating on tasks.
  • Having trouble keeping relationships with co-workers.
  • Lack of job security.

Someone chewing a pencil.

Can workplace anxiety impact productivity?

Workplace anxiety negatively impact performance–reducing productivity and revenue.

Excessive anxiety can result in emotional distress and physical symptoms. When your workforce is overwhelmed by anxiety, they cannot function at their full potential.

Some managers assume that putting more pressure on their team can help improve productivity. This can make them feel overwhelmed and can add to their stress levels and anxiety.

Many people struggle to perform well when they deal with anxiety, and their productivity usually drops dramatically. Employees who feel anxious or stressed are likely to not be as focused on their work. This will have an adverse effect on the bottom line of your business.

What UK laws cover workplace anxiety

Under the Equality Act 2010, employees with a physical or mental disability are protected from discrimination relating to their health.

In some cases, anxiety can have such an effect on a person, it can impact daily activities. In these cases, the condition could class as a disability. Here, employees are protected against discrimination, redundancy, and dismissal.

Furthermore, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to protect their employees' welfare so far as reasonably practicable.

Work-related mental health risks must be assessed to figure out the impact they have on your employees. Where you identify a risk, you must take steps to remove it or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable.

As an employer, you cannot treat someone unfairly because of mental health issues. Offer reasonable adjustments where necessary so that they can carry out their responsibilities.

People having a meeting.

How to support employees with workplace anxiety

Employers need promote the importance of good mental health; and eliminate any form of discrimination. By doing so, you can tackle illnesses, like anxiety, found within your staff.

Below are some strategies for promoting positive wellness and helping employees who may be suffering from an anxiety disorder:

Create a friendly culture

As an employer, you should never underestimate the importance of workplace culture. The type of culture your workplace holds can have a significant impact on your employees' mood.

Toxic workplaces can easily become breeding grounds for anxiety disorders and panic attacks, which can seriously harm your workforce. This stems from a number of factors, such as poor relationships and disorganised processes.

You should concentrate on creating a welcoming environment that fosters a sense of belonging and understanding. Lead by being supportive and doing everything you can to ensure your staff don't feel alone in their challenges, particularly when it comes to mental health.

Develop an open communication policy

Employees should feel comfortable talking to their employer about any concerns they may have. Many people who suffer from anxiety disorders at work are hesitant to approach a manager and express their feelings.

Open communication about personal issues and health conditions promotes a workplace that's driven by people. This will not only make staff feel motivated. But it can help prepare them for any future issues that may arise.

Keep conditions confidential

When an employee opens up about a concern, it's critical that you keep it confidential. It could be about their daily lives, physical conditions, or a mental illness.

Most people find it difficult to talk about their daily life or anxiety disorders. That’s why trust is such a key component of this.

Make sure all conversations regarding mental health are held in private. And keep employee wellbeing in mind throughout the process.

Provide reasonable workloads

If an employee has expressed feelings of anxiety, you shouldn't discuss targets, deadlines, and key performance indicators with them. They need your professional help to manage stress at that moment.

Making to-do lists or discussing performance or business needs must be done when they're calmer and better able to discuss them.

You should build trust and maintain open lines of communication, helping the employee manage their anxiety with supportive measures.

Offer constructive feedback

Constructive feedback is beneficial and productive in the workplace, but criticism is not. Offering constructive feedback to an employee who has an anxiety disorder can help them to better manage their goals and expectations.

In some cases, regular reviews can negatively affect an employee and cause them to experience anxiety. As a result, it is important that you focus on what your employee does well and offer support in areas where they can improve.

Offer support

Most employers consider offering support to be a valuable asset in making sure their staff are happy and comfortable at work.

Supporting an employee to deal with anxiety has a big impact on how they feel about their job.

One of the best ways to demonstrate this is to develop an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in your company. EAPs offer staff professional support when they face challenges. They can also help anxious employees seek medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a mental health professional.

Get expert advice on anxiety at work with Peninsula

Employers are responsible for their employees' health and safety, including their mental wellbeing. If any of your employees have a mental problem, you must help them.

If you fail to treat anxious employees fairly, they could end up quitting or raising claims for unfair treatment.

Peninsula offers 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 051 3687 and book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants.

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