There's no shortage of stress at work. For individuals dealing with anxiety, this daily routine of meeting deadlines, learning new tools, dealing with conflict, and trying to climb the career ladder creates a daily struggle.
You might be thinking, "But no one on my team has anxiety." Think again. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “an estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year”.
According to the CDC, adults with general anxiety, 3.4% said they experience moderate anxiety and 2.7% experienced extreme anxiety. Individuals with severe anxiety sometimes have trouble completing even the simplest tasks; from going grocery shopping to getting out of bed in the morning. With around 130 million full-time employees in the U.S., chances are you probably will work with someone who suffers from anxiety at some point. Whether you know if someone on your team suffers from anxiety or not, it's always good practice to do your best to understand the disorder and help create an environment that fosters communication, collaboration, and trust.
How does anxiety affect people in the workplace?
According to a survey conducted by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, many people with anxiety disorders find it hard to deal with tasks and responsibilities at the office.
Having an anxiety disorder can make it hard for people with a job to work efficiently. This can also affect a person's chances of being promoted or accepted for a new role. Put together, this information can put a lot of pressure on employees with work anxiety, which can then make the issue worse.
Here are some of the many consequences of anxiety in the workplace:
- Loss of sleep
- Poor eating habits
- Missed deadlines
- Decreased capacity to focus
- More errors than normal
- Difficulty managing teammates
- A general decline in health
- The development of long-term health issues
- Decrease in quality of workplace culture
- Decrease in job satisfaction for the person experiencing anxiety and those around them
- Inability to form or maintain working relationships
- Physical danger if any heavy machinery is involved (including driving a car for their commute)
- Emotional outbursts and general irritability
As you can tell, this list covers multiple facets of an employee’s life, which means it can also cover multiple facets of their work too.
What are some common causes of anxiety at work?
While there can be many reasons for a person to experience anxiety, there is hope for solving environmental and circumstantial causes of anxiety at work. Whether you’re managing a remote team or in charge of your company’s HR projects, you can make an impact by simply understanding the root causes of anxiety at work. The most common factors that impact workplace anxiety include:
1. Unrealistic expectations
Whether it’s their workload or performance, if an employee feels as if the expectations put upon them are not possible, they’re likely going to get anxious over it. The goal is to make them feel that they are being challenged within their abilities while also being set up for success.
2. Long hours or odd schedules
An extra hour here or there may not have lasting effects on an individual. But repeatedly being asked to stay late or working in a culture where overwork is expected isn’t sustainable for most people, let alone those dealing with anxiety. In addition to long hours, odd schedules such as random overnights or time zone adjustments of more than two hours can also take a toll if employees don’t have a fair amount of time to adjust.
3. Interpersonal conflict
Interpersonal conflict is often created as a result of office romances or office rivalries (and sometimes both). While managers can’t stop people from engaging on a personal level, they can keep their fingers on the pulse of employee relationships and work to keep the environment friendly for everyone.
4. Poor communication
Anxiety can also be caused by miscommunication, which is why it’s so important to crystalize project management plans so that everyone knows what they’re responsible for at all times.
5. Job security fears
Mass employee exodus, talks of a company sale, or even negative industry trends can all create anxiety in the workplace. Transparency around these issues will make it easier to resolve them as they come up and nip anxious thoughts in the bud. Make sure you have a plan in place to take care of your team’s collective mental health during times of turmoil.
How to spot someone dealing with anxiety at work
1. Do your research
If you know someone on your team suffers from anxiety, take 10 minutes out of your day to do some research. What symptoms do you see? How severe is their anxiety? Do you notice specific situations that make them uncomfortable? Observing your team and understanding that they all handle things differently will help you gauge their limits and play to their strengths while they work on their weaknesses.
2. Eliminate stigma
It's simply human nature to fear the unknown. You're more likely to hear about a teammate's heart condition than you are about their mental illness. Although we're understanding and learning more about anxiety all the time, the shame and embarrassment associated with it leads more people to view it as a personal problem versus an actual disorder. This mentality is not productive in a work environment. Without being pushy, set the expectation to have open communication and understanding. Keep the floor open for personal discussions and hold regular one-on-ones so your teammates have plenty of opportunities to reach out.
3. Be mindful
Always be mindful of the anxiety — whether you're delegating tasks or planning a team building event. You want to challenge your teammates, not put them in a situation that will make them feel uncomfortable or heighten their anxiety. For example, if your employee experiences anxiety in social situations, it's probably better to have someone else facilitate large meetings or meet with important clients. Have an open dialogue and discuss their goals and limits. Anything they really want to accomplish by the end of the quarter? What skills are they looking to strengthen? Make these a priority when planning out objectives, OKRs, and work-from-home policies.
4. Be encouraging
People with anxiety should be encouraged to test their limits where appropriate and celebrate their achievements, no matter how small. You should be their champion in helping them hit those milestones and gain confidence in their work. Encouraging transparency and openness is key, so when something is really bothering them or if their anxiety intensifies, they won't be afraid to come to you.
How to manage anxiety at work on a personal level
While managing other employees with anxiety can be challenging, it’s a whole other story when it comes to managing your own. First, figure out what is causing your anxiety in the first place. Talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling and options for moving forward.
The cause of your anxiety may be obvious without the need for a medical professional's opinion. For example, a recent company downsize that laid off most of your department may leave you with more work than you can reasonably handle. It’s natural to feel anxious at a time like this, but that doesn’t mean you should let the problem continue, especially if it’s affecting your wellbeing day-to-day.
Once you’ve identified the factors contributing to your anxiety, you can work to address it from a physical, mental, and spiritual level. You may choose to incorporate more stress management practices into your daily routine or ask for help from family and friends.
Assuming you feel comfortable, it’s also a good idea to let your coworkers know what issues you’re experiencing. They may be able to provide solutions for you. Or, at the very least, they’ll likely be able to relate to your experience and let you know that they’re there to support you.
Other practices related to self-care are also incredibly helpful for managing anxiety at work at a personal level. Using your paid-time-off days, getting enough sunlight, and maintaining a routine that includes nourishing foods, mental relaxation, and physical movement in some way are all great places to start.
Managing anxiety on your team
Between approaching deadlines, quarterly objectives, and personal career goals, most, if not all, employees deal with some type of anxiety at some point. However, those who experience it daily, doing the simplest tasks, only thrive in an environment that is knowledgeable, non-judgmental, mindful, and encouraging across the whole team. As a manager, it's up to you to set the precedent for an open and honest relationship that encourages growth and success.
Does your team seem to be clashing? Here's your guide to managing people with contrasting personalities.