Steps to Supporting an Employee with Anxiety Issues

Stress is a natural part of working life. When things don’t go to plan and deadlines are looming or a tricky client is giving you grief, it’s hard not to feel anxious.

But it’s important that we don’t blur the lines between workplace stress and a disabling anxiety disorder. Generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder are recognised medical conditions which can completely dominate a person’s working and personal life.

15.4 million working days were lost to work-related depression or anxiety in 2017/18, according to the Labour Force Survey, but only 16% of employees felt able to disclose a mental health issue at work (Mental Health Work Report). As a society we’re getting better at talking about anxiety and mental health, but the stats clearly show there’s still some way to go before the stigma is completely gone, and employees are happy to openly talk about their feelings at work.

Whether you’re a manager, a business owner or in HR, these four steps will help you support an employee struggling with anxiety:

Spot the signs

Have you noticed someone taking a lot of sick days? Has their performance significantly dipped too? Are they emotionally overreacting to even the smallest problems These are all common signs someone is experiencing anxiety and they would benefit from a manager or HR person reaching out. Other common indicators are: not engaging in conversation with colleagues and blankly staring into space.

These signs aren’t always easy to spot, however. People with anxiety often don’t let it show, so if you’re not actively looking for them, they can easily go unnoticed. That’s why more and more companies are benefitting from external mental health training courses like Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) or MIND’s in-house training. They help equip organisations with the skills to recognise when someone is struggling and they give guidance on how to take appropriate action.

Build a culture that promotes wellbeing

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A toxic work environment can have a destructive effect on your employees’ mental health. Your organisation should foster a friendly, welcoming culture – one that doesn’t shy away from talking about anxiety, but instead encourages employees to freely discuss it. Having an open-door policy is key. It lets employees know help is available to them when they need it and shows that your workplace is a nurturing community, not somewhere you go just to pick up a pay check.

Having senior staff discuss their own stresses and anxieties is another great way to promote openness. Leading by example, it will encourage others to follow suit, and show that they’re in an environment where these conversations are encouraged, not squashed.

Be flexible

The benefits of flexible working have never been clearer: it improves job satisfaction, reduces absence rates and allows for a better work-life balance. For those suffering from anxiety especially, being able to work agilely can be the difference between a happy and an unhappy work life. Using cloud HR from any reputable HR software company can be very helpful in assisting this process, providing transparency and support.

Allowing employees to alter their working hours means they can get some headspace when they need it or attend doctor’s appointments or counselling sessions during working hours. This can have an enormously positive impact on their wellbeing, and their productivity levels. Letting them work remotely means they can be in the environment they feel most comfortable in, removing unnecessary stress.

Check-in regularly

Consistent communication with employees is essential and regular informal conversations is a great way of facilitating this. You’ll better understand what triggers their anxiety and what changes you can make to best enable the employee to continue his or her duties at an optimal level.

Some modern HR software is designed to facilitate these kinds of informed conversations, providing a centralised area where agreed activities can be documented, and outcomes recorded. This makes it much easier to ensure that support is ongoing, and visible to everyone involved.