Anxiety affects approximately 1 in 25 of the UK population and has been a key focus of  2023’s Mental Health Awareness Week. But what is anxiety, what does it look like and how can employers support people who are experiencing it within the workplace? 

What is workplace anxiety?

Anxiety can have a significant impact on a person’s wellbeing where people may experience physical and emotional symptoms such as headaches, feeling tense, low mood, increased time off and decreased productivity.

It can be triggered by: 

  • Heavy workloads 
  • Poor management (lack of communication, micro-managing)  
  • Long working hours 
  • Lack of autonomy 
  • Conflicts with colleagues 

An Opinium survey in November 2022 found that 34% of adults experience anxiety, with the public health and education sectors showing the most significant increase in anxiety rates from 2019 to 2022, likely due to pandemic-related pressures.  Deloitte’s 2022 research indicated that poor mental health cost UK employers between £53-56 billion in 2020/2021, a 25% increase since 2019.  

workplace anxiety stats

17 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22 in the UK 

What can employers do to help?

Employers play a crucial role in helping their employees manage anxiety. While individuals can take measures to cope with their feelings, employers must also take proactive steps to support their workforce’s mental health. By doing so, staff are less likely to experience work-related mental health issues, fostering a happier and more productive environment for their employees.

Here are six ways employers can support employees experiencing workplace anxiety. 

 1. Create a safe and supportive workplace culture

Establishing a supportive and secure work culture is vital in assisting employees with anxiety. The ambience of the workplace significantly influences how employees feel and toxic work environments can escalate into staff experiencing anxiety or depression.

Instead, employers should strive to promote open communication, encourage teamwork, and provide opportunities for professional development. It’s essential that employees feel valued, psychologically safe, connected and appreciated for their contributions. 

employee anxiety

 2. Encourage active listening and open communication

It’s common for employees to find it challenging to discuss their mental health at work. A recent UK survey found that only 12% of employees have discussed their mental health with their managers, and out of these, one in seven reported that no action was taken following their disclosure.

People experiencing anxiety often hesitate to share their feelings with managers due to the fear of intensifying their symptoms. Here, managers can play a crucial role by fostering a culture of non-judgmental conversations and attentive listening. This approach helps build trust, gain insight into the employees’ situations and emotions, and enables them to provide empathetic support to those struggling with anxiety.

 3. Provide resources and tools for managing anxiety

Employers can provide their employees with resources and tools to help manage anxiety. This can include access to counselling services, training around looking after your mental health and wellbeing resources. Employers can also inspire their workforce to take necessary breaks and participate in activities that boost mental health, such as physical exercise or mindfulness practices.

 4. Be flexible with work arrangements

Another way to support employees with anxiety is to be flexible with work arrangements. Anxiety can come in waves with some days being more challenging than others. Therefore, it’s crucial for employers to embrace a flexible work approach. This could involve providing flexible working hours or the option to work remotely.

employees anxiety workplace

 5. Support managers and supervisors on how to help employees with anxiety

Employers can also support their managers and supervisors on how to assist employees who are struggling. This can include providing training on how to recognise the signs of anxiety and how to provide appropriate support. Moreover, organisations can encourage managers and supervisors to maintain regular check-ins with their teams and to foster a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing any mental health concerns.  

6. Ensure confidentiality

People need to be reassured of confidentiality when dealing with sensitive information such as mental health. Implementing strict policies guarantees this and it’s also essential to consult with the individual about what details they wish to disclose and to whom. For guidance on data protection see the Information Commissioner’s Office. 

Employers have a duty of care to their employees. By signposting employees towards helpful resources, such as the company’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or private healthcare, and by integrating bespoke interventions and ongoing awareness, employers can encourage open conversations and provide meaningful anxiety support.

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