Anxiety in the workplace is a growing concern that HR departments and wellbeing leaders can’t afford to ignore. One thing we must make clear right from the start is that the course of anxiety varies widely among individuals. Anxiety has a variable course and it is important to understand the natural history of the condition. This article aims to guide employers in taking an informed approach to managing workplace anxiety, thereby benefiting not just employees but the entire organisation.
Some employers might think there is an inevitable escalation in anxiety once it starts. As stated at the outset, this is not true. The course of the condition is variable. In some cases it can be self-limiting, in others cases it may be chronic but stay at more or less the same level of severity and in other cases it may worsen, particularly if it is not detected and managed early. All potential presentations benefit from early detection and early management, including the self-limiting presentations. The shorter the duration the better for the individual and the organisation.The course of the condition can be influenced by a multitude of factors, including personal triggers, workplace culture, and life events. The best approach is to have systems in place that enable early detection and early intervention .
One size does not fit all
Different individuals have unique triggers, coping mechanisms, and personal circumstances that affect their experience of anxiety. Employers should recognise these nuances to better tailor their interventions. However, this does not mean you cannot have a protocol in place to manage these presentations, it means that the protocol must be geared towards detecting individual differences.
Fostering an Open Culture
Creating a culture where mental health is openly discussed results in a workplace that is psychologically safe. It’s very difficult to be proactive in detecting these conditions if nobody is willing to talk about them. Employees should feel comfortable talking about their mental state without fear of retribution or judgement. Employers can achieve this by organising workshops, bringing in guest speakers on mental health, and training managers to handle such issues empathetically.
Flexible Working Conditions
The traditional 9-to-5 working schedule will not suit everyone, especially those who are managing anxiety. Offering flexible working hours, job-sharing opportunities, or the option of remote work can alleviate unnecessary stress and empower employees to perform at their best. It will also enable those with anxiety to take time for appointments and to take breaks when necessary.
Individualised Action Plans
To effectively manage anxiety at an individual level, consider working with your HR department to create bespoke action plans for employees experiencing moderate anxiety. These reasonable adjustments should be personalised based on consultations with each affected employee, and take into consideration factors like their specific triggers, work requirements, and personal circumstances. Regular updates to these plans should be made based on ongoing consultations.
Peer Support Systems
Incorporating a peer support system within the organisation can provide an outlet for employees dealing with anxiety. Encourage open dialogue and the sharing of experiences among peers, perhaps through the formation of dedicated support groups. Peer-driven solutions often yield unique insights that formal interventions might overlook. Champions should be well-informed about all the signposting and the resources available to employees as employees with anxiety are more likely to seek peer support than speak to their manager or HR directly.
Employers now have the option to utilise technology to help manage workplace anxiety. Evidence-based digital services that combine self-guided sessions with access to therapy and that serve as a hub for other services are perhaps the most comprehensive solutions in this space.
Monitoring and Follow-Up
Consistent support and follow-up are crucial to the success of any intervention strategy. Consider using anonymous online surveys, monthly one-on-one meetings, or even third-party audits to collect valuable feedback and ensure that the interventions are producing desired outcomes.
Managing anxiety in the workplace is a multi-faceted challenge that requires an integrated approach. From dispelling myths to implementing customised intervention strategies, employers have a critical role to play in shaping a healthier, more productive work environment for all.
Andres Fonseca is a qualified medical doctor and consultant psychiatrist with over 20 years of clinical experience. He has worked both in the NHS and as a Medical Director in the independent healthcare sector. He holds an MSc in Psychiatric Research and is an Honorary Lecturer at the UCL Division of Psychiatry. Andres currently serves as the CEO at Thrive Mental Wellbeing.
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