The Guide to Managing Someone with Anxiety at Work

10 Anxiety Management Tactics for Organizations and Their Leaders

Managing someone with anxiety at work is an increasingly common issue for organizations in the United States. Yet it is often ignored by managers and leaders. Why is this, and what can you do better?

Anxiety at work is a growing problem

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, almost one in five American adults are affected by anxiety disorders every year. Yet fewer than 40% of these are treated for their mental health condition. However, these statistics were gathered when the world was ‘normal’. 

Unsurprisingly, the state of mental health in the U.S. workforce took a tumble in 2020. The Mental Health Index, U.S. Worker Edition update of December 2020 found that:

  • 45% of workers suffered increased anxiety since February 2020

  • There is a 48% risk of depressive disorder

  • There has been a 62% drop in sustained attention at work, demonstrating that workers are struggling to focus

However, it is not only focus that is affected by anxiety at work. Common issues associated with mental health issues include:

  • Missed deadlines

  • Lower productivity

  • Reduced quality of work

  • A negative impact on workplace relationships

  • Increases in employee turnover

When such outcomes are laid out in black and white, it becomes obvious that organizations must do more.

What can managers and leaders do to manage someone with anxiety at work?

Clearly, managing someone with anxiety at work is an issue that must be tackled effectively. So, what can managers do better?

  1. Understand that anxiety is different to stress

Anxiety is different to stress. It is natural to feel stressed sometimes – it is a natural emotional response to pressure. Once the pressure has passed, so does the stress.

Anxiety does not go away. Anxious feelings can erupt at any time, and often for no apparent reason. It is hard to control these emotions. This makes it hard for the sufferer to cope with daily life.

  1. Be mindful of changes in behavior

The symptoms of anxiety are not constant. It affects individuals differently. However, managers should be mindful of changes in behaviors which may be signs of anxiety. These include:

  • Restlessness

  • Avoidance of certain workplace activities (for example, team meetings)

  • Difficulty to make decisions

  • Missing of reasonable deadlines

  • Easily upset

Those suffering with anxiety (and its closely-related condition of depression) may also:

  • Have difficulty focusing on tasks

  • Consistently arrive at work late

  • Feel fatigued 

  • Lose their temper easily

  • Avoid their colleagues

If managers notice any of these signs, they should approach the situation with empathy and compassion. For example, by addressing a difficult breakdown in communication by carefronting and not confronting

  1. Offer support

Managers should be trained to offer support to their employees as well as recognizing the symptoms.

Many people find it difficult to talk about their personal feelings and mental health issues. There is still a stigma surrounding disclosing such issues. Managers must ensure the employee that this is not the case, encouraging honesty and maintaining confidentiality.

During this process, a manager may need to seek the support of:

  • The employee’s health professional

  • Other managers

  • HR specialists

This involvement can only be considered with the agreement of the employee.

  1. Develop a workplan

Agree a workplan with the employee. Often, clarity of role and responsibilities can make a big difference to those suffering with anxiety. Also, consider that you may need to make adjustments in the workplace to accommodate the employee more effectively.

  1. Check in regularly

As we’ve said, anxiety is constant. It’s also draining and largely unpredictable. Therefore, managers should check in with their employees regularly. Speak about the workplan, what is working well and what is not, and adjust accordingly. Managers should make sure that they provide positive feedback to help boost confidence and encourage effort.

  1. Keep the team involved – with the employee’s permission

When adjusting workplace and workplans, other employees are bound to notice. Managers should speak with the affected employee to decide what to tell their colleagues and how. Remember, too, that the workload of other employees may also be affected – so managers will need to consider this.

What can organizations do?

Of course, ultimately the responsibility for managing someone with anxiety at work falls on your organization. Here are three things that you should be doing to facilitate the management of employees with anxiety.

  1. Establish a positive culture

Put your employees’ health and mental wellbeing at the top of your agenda. Ensure that all your policies and procedures consider this as top priority.

Maintain an open-door policy, in which everyone feels welcome and at ease to talk honestly about any issues they have.

  1. Train managers to manage anxiety

Train managers to recognize the symptoms of anxiety, and to help employees identify their personal triggers.

Managers should also be good communicators, helping to break down the stigma attached to mental health, listen actively, develop positive communication, and avoid making assumptions that create communication havoc and deteriorate relationships.

  1. Develop reasonable responses

Organizations should ensure consistency in their approach. One way to do this may be to develop a ‘menu’ of reasonable responses. For example, when an employee is unable to work because of anxiety, you may consider flexible work arrangements, altered shifts, or working remotely.

Other things that an organization might offer include access to professional mentoring, modification of tasks, and on-the-job peer support.

  1. Always ensure workloads are realistic

Stress can be a trigger for those who suffer from anxiety. Relive this by always ensuring that your employees are tasked with reasonable and realistic workloads. 

Are your leaders ready for managing someone with anxiety at work?

Many managers and leaders find it hard to manage employees with anxiety because they have not been trained to do so. But with increasing levels of anxiety in society and in the workplace, it is crucial that managers are equipped to help their people cope more effectively.

Our leadership assessments will help you determine their strengths and weaknesses of your leaders and managers and any coaching needs.

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