Home / The Rix & Kay Blog / Does your business know how to recognise anxiety and manage its effects in the workplace?
Georgina Hardcastle

HR Consultant - East Sussex (Uckfield)

15th May 2023

Mental Health Awareness Week (15-21 May 2023) is an annual opportunity for the whole of the UK to focus on promoting positive mental health. The theme this year is ‘anxiety’. This article looks at the impact of anxiety on mental health, how anxiety impacts work performance and the practical steps employers can take to support their employees.

What is anxiety?

We all experience anxiety from time to time. Anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways for each individual person. For some people anxiety can last for a long time and become out of control. This is often when anxiety ends up having a major impact on mental health and, consequently, a person’s daily life.

Anxiety can arise as a result of many situations, sometimes there is no sole reason, a multitude of factors could trigger it. Causes often include financial pressures, relationship and family problems, health issues, or other big life changing events.

Anxiety can also be caused by the workplace. Heavy and unmanageable workloads, long working hours, poor or micro-management, disorganised processes, bullying, lack of communication, conflicts with colleagues and toxic work environments could all trigger workplace anxiety.

The cost for organisations

In November 2022, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that ‘an estimated 17 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2021/22’.

Organisations also need to consider the cost to the business, of staff turnover. Those employees experiencing anxiety are more likely to leave their job. Together, the cost of absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover due to poor mental health is estimated to be around £45 billion per year (Champion Health). Presenteeism is where employees work long or extra hours and often work while they are sick for fear of being viewed unfavourably by management.

To exacerbate matters further, half of employees living with anxiety disorders have not had access to mental health support (Every Mind at Work).

How can anxiety impact work performance?

The effects of anxiety can have a significant impact on an employee’s life and on their ability to perform their best at work.

Key to managing anxiety in the workplace is for managers and colleagues to know how to recognise the symptoms and look out for uncharacteristic behaviour. This might include: declining or excessive work performance, disengagement with work, increased irritability, obvious tiredness, poor concentration levels, turning off the camera during video calls, withdrawal from participating in team meetings or increased sickness absence.

The sooner an employer becomes aware of a potential mental health problem, the sooner they can offer help and support.

How can employers support employees with anxiety?

From a personal perspective, I’ve recently had to deal with some personal news that caused me immeasurable anxiety. I was worried about how this might affect my performance at work, particularly my concentration levels. I have been very fortunate to have a supportive and reassuring manager who frequently checks-in with me to see how I am feeling and genuinely cares about my well-being. My workload is regularly reviewed to ensure it is manageable for me and support and flexibility is always offered. This has helped me considerably in managing my anxiety. I therefore speak from experience in advising the following:

Practical steps employers might take include:

Create a supportive work environment. Showing concern and approaching situations with understanding creates a safe environment. Managers should be approachable, available and encourage team members to talk if they’re having problems. This will help employees to feel more able to talk openly about mental health.

Have regular check-ins/one-to-one meetings. A simple ‘how are you? strengthens relationships and offers people the opportunity to talk openly should they wish to.

Look out for symptoms of anxiety. Be mindful of uncharacteristic behaviour as detailed earlier. Put time aside to have a chat with them to understand more.

Create an action plan for someone who has disclosed anxiety. Thank them for opening up. Listen carefully to what they say. Try to get an idea of what triggers their anxiety and what kind of support they might need. Reassure them that you’re there to help and support them.

Make reasonable adjustments. Under the Equality Act 2010, a person with poor mental health can be considered to be disabled. As such, they will have legal protection from suffering discrimination. Employers must not disadvantage someone who has a disability because of their disability and ‘reasonable adjustments’ must be made. For example, a person’s anxiety may cause them to struggle to motivate themselves in the morning to leave home. In this case, an adjustment might be to change their working hours temporarily. It’s important to be as flexible as possible to aid a person’s recovery.

Always be clear about confidentiality. You should reassure the person that you will not share anything they tell you with anyone else without their permission, unless there’s a good reason to. If there is good reason, you should be clear about who you’ll share such information with and why.

Provide managers with mental health training. Managers need to be equipped to spot potential warning signs that someone is struggling with anxiety as well as knowing how to have a supportive conversation with them. Knowing what to do in these situations in a supportive manner and making time for this, can make a big difference to someone.

Consider offering an Employee Assistance Programme. This can enable employees to talk about their feelings anonymously with an impartial professional.

Promote positive mental health at work. Mental health awareness training and workshops, or appointing employee mental health ‘champions’ who staff can talk to will help to raise awareness and reduce the stigma attached to poor mental health.

Employers have a ‘duty of care’. This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. Employers must treat mental and physical health as equally important (ACAS). Considering the above practical steps can help to manage anxiety and to keep valuable employees at work and to prevent anxiety from becoming a big problem.

Contact us

For an informal chat about managing mental health in the workplace contact Georgie Hardcastle, HR Consultant in Rix & Kay’s GatekeeperHR Team. e. geroginahardcastle@rixandkay.co.uk or t. 01825 744 409

About GatekeeperHR

GatekeeperHR is a great value fixed cost, Employment Law and HR Retainer Service which provides businesses with access to a dedicated team of experienced lawyers and HR professionals who you can speak to, or meet face-to-face, at any time. The service includes a full HR compliance audit, access to an online portal full of valuable employment law and HR resources and an annual training session on topics of your choosing. To find out more about GatekeeperHR, please contact us. Alternatively, you can browse the GatekeeperHR website, sign up for a free trial or download our brochure by visiting www.gatekeeperhr.co.uk