Managing Employees with Anxiety

The impact that anxiety has on a person’s life is unmistakable.  

It strains relationships, breeds isolation, can create financial challenges, and detrimentally affects physical health. Yet, what often remains overlooked is its profound impact on their career. Recent findings from a survey revealed that more than a quarter of full-time employed individuals in Britain acknowledge anxiety and stress as significant hindrances to their productivity.

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For managers and leaders, recognising and addressing employee anxiety isn’t just about creating a supportive work environment—it’s crucial for the business’s success. Employees who feel overwhelmed by anxiety are not only likely to underperform but may also struggle with absenteeism, decreased morale, and heightened turnover rates. 

So, how can you better manage employees with anxiety? Firstly, you need to know what anxiety is. 

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a common human experience that many of us encounter at some point in our lives. It’s a natural response to stress or uncertainty. Still, it can become overwhelming for some people and interfere with their personal and working lives. 

At its core, anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. It’s our body’s way of preparing for a perceived threat, whether real or imagined. While a bit of anxiety can be motivating, too much can be debilitating. 

Physiologically, anxiety triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response, releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to prepare us to deal with the perceived danger. This can manifest as symptoms such as a racing heart, sweaty palms, or tense muscles. 

There are different types of anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, each with its own set of symptoms and triggers. What sets these apart from normal feelings of anxiety is the severity, duration, and impact on daily life. 

What Causes Anxiety?

Anxiety can stem from various factors, spanning genetics and individual personality traits to significant life events like work-related stress or personal loss. It’s crucial to understand that anxiety disorders aren’t merely a matter of feeling nervous but are intricate conditions that may emerge from a blend of biological and environmental influences. 

Environmentally, the pressures of work, looming deadlines, and tumultuous relationships can intensify anxiety, particularly in individuals predisposed to it. Biologically, anxiety disorders might be associated with an imbalance of the chemicals responsible for transmitting messages between brain cells and regulating mood. 

It’s important to remember that experiencing anxiety is not a sign of weakness, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just as we all experience physical ailments from time to time, our mental health also fluctuates. 

By understanding what anxiety is and how it affects us, we can better support ourselves and those around us who may be experiencing it.  

How the Workplace can Contribute to Anxiety

Work environments can be significant contributors to anxiety, affecting individuals in various ways. It’s important to remember that not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. While deadlines may cause anxiety for one of your team members, they may make another colleague more productive. Be mindful of this whenever you’re talking about anxiety among employees.  

Several factors within the workplace can contribute to heightened levels of anxiety, including: 

  • High Demands and Pressure 

Jobs that entail high demands and tight deadlines can create a breeding ground for anxiety. Constantly feeling the pressure to meet targets or exceed expectations can lead to chronic stress, eventually culminating in anxiety disorders. 


  • Uncertain Job Security  

In today’s competitive job market, many employees face the looming threat of job insecurity. Fear of losing one’s job or facing layoffs can induce significant anxiety, impacting both mental wellbeing and job performance. 


  • Toxic Work Culture  

Offices that face hostility, bullying, or lack of support can exacerbate feelings of anxiety among employees. Constant exposure to negativity and conflict can take a toll on mental health and contribute to a sense of unease. 


  • Lack of Work-Life Balance 

A healthy balance between work and personal life is crucial for overall wellbeing. However, in environments where work-life balance is disregarded, employees may experience heightened stress and anxiety as they struggle to juggle competing demands. 


  • Poor Management and Communication 

Ineffective management practices and poor communication within the workplace can also contribute to anxiety. Unclear expectations, micromanagement, and a lack of feedback or recognition can leave employees feeling undervalued and anxious about their performance. 

Understanding how the workplace can contribute to anxiety is essential for managing employees with anxiety compassionately. By acknowledging and addressing these triggers, businesses can create strategies to reduce anxiety, thus promoting a healthier, more productive work atmosphere.   

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How can Anxiety Impact Performance in the Workplace

Anxiety can have significant ramifications for workplace performance. The pervasive nature of anxiety can infiltrate various aspects of an individual’s professional life, hindering productivity, decision-making, and overall job satisfaction.

Reduced Productivity

Anxiety can impair cognitive function and focus, making it challenging for individuals to concentrate on tasks and complete them efficiently. Constant worry and rumination can lead to procrastination and avoidance behaviours, further impeding productivity. 

Impaired Decision-Making

In high-pressure situations, anxiety can cloud judgment and impair decision-making abilities. Individuals may struggle to weigh options objectively, leading to indecisiveness or making hasty choices that are not well thought out. 

Interpersonal Challenges

Anxiety can also impact interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Individuals experiencing anxiety may withdraw from social interactions, avoiding collaboration and communication with colleagues. This can hinder teamwork and create tension within teams. 

Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, sweating, and trembling, can be disruptive in a professional setting. These symptoms may cause discomfort and embarrassment, further exacerbating feelings of anxiety and impacting performance. 

Absenteeism and Presenteeism

Severe anxiety may lead to increased absenteeism as individuals struggle to cope with symptoms or avoid triggering situations altogether. On the other hand, some individuals may engage in presenteeism, coming to work despite feeling unwell, which can result in decreased productivity and quality of work. 

Understanding and managing an employee with anxiety compassionately and effectively is paramount for those in management roles. By acknowledging and addressing the challenges posed by anxiety in the workplace, organisations can create a more inclusive and supportive environment where employees feel empowered to manage their mental health effectively. 

How to Have Discussions About Performance

When managing an employee with anxiety, handling performance discussions requires sensitivity and care. These discussions can be daunting for anyone, even those who have never experienced anxiety before. So, it’s essential to navigate a delicate balance between workplace demands and the feelings and emotions of the employee you are talking to. 

Begin by establishing regular check-ins. These consistent one-to-one meetings help build trust and provide ongoing support. During these sessions, take the opportunity to clarify expectations by setting clear, achievable goals. This prevents misunderstandings and ensures alignment between you and the employee. 

In offering feedback, prioritise constructive criticism to promote personal and professional growth. Avoid solely highlighting areas for improvement; instead, provide actionable advice that empowers the individual. 

Acknowledging the employee’s strengths and accomplishments is equally important. Recognising their contributions can boost their confidence and alleviate performance-related stress. 

Encourage active listening during discussions. Allow the employee to share their thoughts and concerns openly. Demonstrating empathy and reinforcing their value to the team helps create a supportive environment. 

If performance issues arise, collaborate on an action plan together. This plan should accommodate the employee’s needs and outline clear steps for improvement. 

Provide access to supportive resources. Direct the employee towards mindfulness exercises or time management tools that can help them manage their anxiety effectively. 

Finally, follow up regularly after discussions to assess progress and offer additional support. This demonstrates your commitment to their wellbeing and reinforces a positive work environment. 

By integrating these approaches, you can create a more supportive workplace culture that promotes employee wellbeing and high performance. 

The Importance of Active Listening

Active listening is a vital skill in effective communication and plays a crucial role in managing employees with anxiety. Active listening cultivates trust, helps validate your employee’s feelings, and encourages open dialogue, which is critical when supporting someone experiencing anxiety.  

Here are key strategies to become an active listener: 

  1. Give Your Undivided Attention

Focus solely on the speaker without distractions. Put away electronic devices, maintain eye contact, and show genuine interest in what they’re saying. 


  1. Practice Nonverbal Communication 

Use nonverbal cues such as nodding, leaning forward, and maintaining an open posture to convey attentiveness and understanding. 


  1. Reflect and Paraphrase

Reflect on what the speaker has said to demonstrate understanding. Paraphrase their words to ensure clarity and show that you’re actively engaged in the conversation. 


  1. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Encourage the speaker to elaborate by asking open-ended questions that prompt them to share more information or delve deeper into their thoughts and feelings. 


  1. Avoid Interrupting

Resist the urge to interrupt or interject with your own opinions or experiences. Allow the speaker to express themselves fully before offering your input. 


  1. Provide Empathetic Responses

Show empathy by acknowledging the speaker’s emotions and validating their experiences. Respond with kindness and understanding, even if you disagree with their perspective. 


  1. Be Patient and Respectful

Be patient and give the speaker time to express themselves fully. Respect their viewpoints, even if they differ from your own, and avoid passing judgment. 


  1. Follow Up

After the conversation, follow up with the speaker to show that you value their input and are committed to ongoing communication and understanding. 

Remember, above all, to maintain confidentiality and respect the employee’s privacy throughout. Building trust occurs when employees feel their concerns are not only heard but also safeguarded. 

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Co-Creating Wellbeing Plans

A key strategy in better managing employees with anxiety involves collaboratively crafting personalised wellbeing plans. These plans entail cooperation between the employee and their manager or HR representative to develop tailored strategies addressing the individual’s needs. 

Wellbeing plans typically include regular check-ins and provide a non-judgmental space for discussing workload, deadlines, and stressors. Encouraging open dialogue creates an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their concerns, allowing for flexible adjustments such as varied working hours or occasional work-from-home options. 

Incorporating mindfulness practices, such as guided meditations or breathing exercises, into daily routines can effectively alleviate anxiety symptoms. These techniques prove beneficial during high-stress periods or before potentially triggering events like presentations or large meetings. 

Assisting employees in setting realistic goals breeds an atmosphere of achievable expectations. Short-term objectives facilitate frequent accomplishments, boosting morale and reducing overwhelming pressure. Recognising that managing anxiety is an ongoing process, strategies evolve as necessary. 

Educating management and colleagues about anxiety disorders contributes to a supportive work culture. Providing information on anxiety signs and empathetic reactions enhances understanding. Staff awareness of the challenges faced by individuals with anxiety promotes a more inclusive and resilient workplace. 

Co-creating wellbeing plans supports employees in managing their anxiety and reinforces the company’s commitment to mental health. Ultimately, this leads to a more engaged and productive workforce, emphasising the importance of prioritising employee wellbeing.

How Reasonable Adjustments Can Help Alleviate Workplace Anxiety

Reasonable adjustments play a vital role in creating an inclusive and supportive work environment, particularly when managing employees with anxiety. These adjustments involve modifying the workplace or job requirements to accommodate the individual’s needs.  

Here’s how reasonable adjustments can help alleviate employee anxiety:

Flexible Working Arrangements: Offering flexible working arrangements, such as adjusted start and finish times or the option to work remotely, can provide employees with the flexibility they need to manage their anxiety effectively.

Reducing Workload or Adjusting Deadlines: Adjusting workloads or deadlines to suit the employee’s capabilities better can help alleviate feelings of overwhelm and pressure. By setting realistic expectations and providing manageable tasks, employees can feel more confident in meeting job requirements, reducing anxiety levels.

Providing Clear Communication and Expectations: Clear communication about job responsibilities, expectations, and feedback can help alleviate anxiety by reducing uncertainty and ambiguity. Regular updates and constructive feedback can help employees feel supported and informed, reducing performance and job security anxiety.

Implementing Wellness Initiatives: Introducing wellness initiatives such as mindfulness sessions, stress management workshops, or employee assistance programs can provide employees with valuable tools and resources for managing anxiety. These initiatives promote employee wellbeing and resilience, contributing to a healthier and happier workforce.

By implementing reasonable adjustments tailored to the individual’s needs, employers can create an environment where employees feel supported, valued, and empowered to manage their anxiety effectively. This not only benefits the employee’s wellbeing but also contributes to a more inclusive and productive workplace culture. 

Why Managing Employees with Anxiety Well Is Good for Business

Compassionately managing employees with anxiety is not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint but also makes good business sense. Effective management of anxiety can have numerous positive impacts on your business performance and bottom line. 

When employees feel supported and their anxiety is managed effectively, they’re more likely to be productive and engaged. By addressing anxiety-related barriers, managers can unlock their team’s full potential and enhance overall productivity. This increased productivity translates to greater output and efficiency. 

Moreover, employees who feel valued and supported are more likely to stay with the company long-term. Treating employees suffering from anxiety with compassion and understanding demonstrates a commitment to employee wellbeing, creating loyalty and reducing turnover rates. Reduced turnover means lower recruitment and training costs and greater continuity in operations. 

Happy, engaged employees are more likely to provide excellent customer service. When employees feel supported in managing their anxiety, they can focus on delivering quality work and building positive customer relationships, ultimately enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Satisfied customers are more likely to return and recommend the company to others, contributing to business growth and success. 

Additionally, effectively managing employees’ anxiety can help reduce absenteeism and presenteeism. By providing support and accommodations, managers can help employees manage their anxiety and maintain their wellbeing, reducing the impact on productivity and morale.  

Lastly, employers have a legal obligation to provide reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, including anxiety disorders, under anti-discrimination laws. Failing to manage employees’ anxiety effectively could lead to legal risks and potential liabilities for the business, including lawsuits and reputational damage. 

Managing employees with anxiety might seem scary because you don’t want to say the wrong thing, but remember, it’s worse to ignore their suffering than to act on it. 

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