In the age of hustling and upskilling, it is only natural to feel that you’re being left behind. Meeting project deadlines, trying to have a healthy work-life balance, or managing conflicts can lead to constant stress. When you top it off with the struggle to get ahead in your career, it adds to the stress. All this leads to workplace anxiety in adults. According to research, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses, affecting over 40 million adults in the U.S.
Anxiety can severely impact someone’s professional life to a point where they find it challenging to navigate simple tasks. Employers need to take cognizance of mental health issues and implement measures to make their organization a safe space for their employees.
You may or may not have worked with someone who suffers from anxiety. Knowing how to foster a collaborative and trustworthy environment that supports your colleagues is always better.
Causes of Anxiety in the Workplace
Anxiety is more than simply worrying about a task or a deadline. It is a feeling of unease and restlessness accompanied by fear. Climbing the career ladder, a high-pressure job, performance, a demanding boss, unfriendly culture, and more contributes to workplace anxiety.
Anxiety makes it difficult for people in the workplace to function efficiently. They cannot perform simple tasks and have a hard time completing their work. Employees should disclose their mental health condition to end mental health stigma, provided they are given a safe space to do so.
So, what are the causes of anxiety that can affect employees in the workplace?
- Workplace conflicts
In a team, there are bound to be different members with different attitudes and approaches to work. It’s smooth sailing if they can respect each other’s opinions and disagree on different matters.
A team that is unable to communicate their differences healthily leads to conflicts. In addition, jealousy and a poor attitude towards a peer’s success lead to interpersonal conflicts. Individuals with anxiety will have difficulty navigating through these conflicts and be unable to express themselves. They will find it difficult to work in an unhealthy work environment. The manager will have to step in and manage conflicts and keep the environment healthy for everyone on the team.
- Unrealistic deadlines
Suppose an employee feels the deadlines set for them are not realistic, or their work performance expectations are not realistic. In that case, they may get anxious and not perform their best at work. The team leader’s job here is to ensure his team is challenged enough while setting them up for success.
- Long work hours
Everyone at their workplace is expected to wait an extra hour to complete their work every once in a while. It is troubling if an organization develops a culture of expecting its employees to work overtime. It isn’t sustainable in the long run, especially for those dealing with anxiety. Everyone has to put in more effort than they need to, making their schedules go haywire.
- Leading a team
Being a leader in a position of responsibility. Managers have to delegate work, mentor juniors, hire or fire people, manage conflicts within the team, and more. They are the points of contact between the upper-level management and their team, often stuck between the two. Managers are responsible for their team’s successes and failures.
The pressures of these responsibilities take a toll, causing stress and anxiety.
- Lack of clarity on given tasks
Every job role comes with its set of roles and responsibilities. Bosses with unrealistic expectations believe their employees will take up more work responsibilities than their job descriptions. Employees who take up additional work are given more preference for an upcoming promotion than those who don’t.
In start-ups and small organizations, lines between different roles blur out. In a bootstrapped start-up, one person has to fulfill multiple responsibilities, which results in an unending cycle of overwork and long working hours, thus causing anxiety disorders.
- Low salary, no benefits, no appreciation
Employees can work better and stay motivated only if they are appreciated for the efforts they put into the work. This, coupled with well-deserved pay and benefits, is something every employee deserves. When employers take their employees for granted and overburden them with work without genuine appreciation, it can lead to stress and anxiety about their job performance.
Effects of anxiety in the workplace
Having any type of anxiety disorder can disrupt someone’s work life. It can impact their chances of being promoted at work, or finding new work can become difficult; employers may refrain from giving them better job assignments, fearing how they would perform. All of this increases work pressure and triggers workplace anxiety.
Here are some other effects of anxiety at the workplace:
– Reduced job performance and quality of work
– Low to no job satisfaction
– Feeling isolated
– Strain on workplace relationships
– Lack of motivation
– Inability to manage time and plan work activities
– Decline in health
– Emotional outbursts
– Career stagnation
Employers, team leaders, and peers must be empathetic towards employees who are suffering from anxiety disorders. With the organization’s help, they must have a safe and supporting environment to perform their best.
What you can do to help your colleagues with anxiety
- Research and educate yourself
If your colleague suffers from an anxiety disorder, try to learn more about their condition. Take some time out of your schedule and research anxiety disorders. Understand their symptoms and their triggers. Try to spot whether there is any situation at work that makes them feel uncomfortable. Observing your team and how they react to certain situations will help you gauge their strengths and limitations.
- Don’t judge or minimize your coworker’s experience
Anxiety is a severe disorder. It is just as serious as any physical injury or physical disorder like heart disease. If your coworker takes you in confidence and tells you they have an anxiety disorder, don’t judge them for it. Refrain from making any offhanded comments that would deteriorate the situation. Instead, help them get through their anxiety attack and alleviate their fears.
The National Institute for Mental Health stated, “an estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year“.
- Be aware
Spend enough time with your coworkers to understand what their triggers are. Is it unrealistic deadlines? Is it working overtime? Is it the problematic manager? Are they not appreciated enough for all the efforts they put in? When you know their triggers, you can step in before their anxiety sets in.
Break down their tasks and help them identify the steps they need to take to achieve those tasks. Integrate OKRs to improve their productivity and tackle their work one by one. This may help them tackle their work easily.
- Be patient and compassionate when your coworker is amidst an anxiety attack.
When your coworker is suffering from an anxiety attack, be empathetic. Don’t undermine their feelings here. Allow them the space to recuperate from the anxiety. Don’t force them to work immediately, as panic attacks can take a physical toll on them.
Adjust your work environment to incorporate their emotions. Provide them with a small room to stay in to get through their panic attack. Stay with them and offer them whatever help they require.
- Offer to help with work-related stressors.
Work can be the biggest stressor and a trigger. If the overburden of work affects them, delegate their added responsibilities to other team members. Hand them tasks one by one rather than dumping all of them together.
Going through the pile of tasks can overwhelm them and, in turn, trigger their panic attack. Use task management software to divide tasks with realistic deadlines so they can plan their work better.
- Offer encouragement
Encourage the coworkers who suffer from anxiety. Push their limits to an extent you know they can handle the work. Champion their milestones and achievements so they feel they can take on more work than before without triggering themselves.
How to implement an empathetic attitude on an organizational level
There needs to be a shift in the attitude towards mental health on an organizational level. Introduce and implement policies that help improve the overall mental health of the employees. Every leader should be proficient enough to understand their employees. Interact and communicate with them to reinforce a positive environment and its importance to the team’s overall success.
Transparency and openness among the team are essential so they can share what has been bothering them, and they won’t be scared to come to you for a solution.
Listen to the employees when they try to communicate with the leaders. Take a more grounded approach when you want to change things in the organization. Understand how everyone operates before swooping in and trying to change the structures.
Managing anxiety on a personal level
It is different from managing a team member with an anxiety issue; it’s a different ball game when you have to manage your own anxiety.
Layoffs within your team may leave you more work than anticipated and can increase your anxiety. It doesn’t mean that it should hamper your well-being and productivity.
Identify your stressors and consciously work on them on a physical and mental level. Meditate or incorporate regular stress management activities in your day-to-day life.
Confide in one of your trusted coworkers about the issues you’re facing at work. They may be able to relate to what you’re going through or help you navigate through the day.
You can include other self-care practices like indulging in a hobby, exercising, or taking a much-deserved vacation.
Meeting quarterly goals, deadlines, and career goals, every employee has to deal with anxiety at some point. Those who suffer from it regularly only thrive in an open environment with non-judgmental coworkers and a thriving support system. As a team leader, you must set the tone for your team and create an open and honest communication channel with a growth and success trajectory.