Work anxiety: Understand it and help your employees

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Since the pandemic, the media report that anxiety has increased among people such as consumers (think inflation) and workers. This mental health condition has always existed. Is it present at your company, among members of your team? Finding out allows you to take measures to promote employee well-being and prevent absences and departures.

Let’s explore the symptoms of anxiety, possible causes and best practices for helping employees who are dealing with this internal distress.

Anxiety and stress: two sides of the same coin?

Anxiety and stress are related, but different:

  • Often anxiety precedes a real or imagined event. It means to worry in anticipation of a threat, whether it has materialized or not.
  • Stress is a physical and psychological reaction triggered for adapting to an event that is experienced.
Here’s an example

In addition to her current job, Leila is replacing a director who is on sick leave. After several days, she is feeling stressed by doing two jobs. Her stomach aches.

Leila also gets performance anxiety when she thinks about taking on the challenges before her. When her manager becomes aware of the situation, he should act before the condition becomes chronic.

Types of anxiety and their symptoms

First of all, feeling a bit of anxiety is a normal emotion. It's when it pervades our thinking on a long-term basis and becomes an obstacle to our daily functioning that it could be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder.

Having symptoms and receiving a diagnosis are two different things. Anxiety disorder, a chronic condition, often requires therapeutic and medical treatment.

There are several forms of anxiety disorders (This hyperlink will open in a new tab). such as panic, specific phobia, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, etc.

To assist you in detecting anxiety, here’s an outline of the symptoms at work:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive worry about everyday details
  • Perpetual fatigue
  • Agitation
  • Tendency to overreact
  • Absenteeism
  • Isolation
  • Quiet quitting
  • Muscular pain, headaches, etc.

How does anxiety develop in the office?

A number of situations may cause anxiety at work:

  • Tight deadlines for completing a project
  • Expectations and objectives that appear intimidating
  • Projected changes or new tools to be mastered
  • Festering conflicts
  • Poorly defined duties
  • The feeling of lacking the required competencies
  • New, passionate employees who don’t watch the clock (making 9 to 5 employees feel insecure)
  • The impression that work-life balance is not taken into account, etc.

Reducing your team’s anxiety: Why is it so important?

Should you prioritize being sensitive to anxiety in your team and working on it together? Yes. It’s better to take it seriously:

  • The symptoms of anxiety often have an effect on productivity.
  • They can also lead individuals to withdraw instead of sharing ideas that could help the team.
  • Reactions by anxious employees can result in tension and have a negative impact on the work climate.
  • Their discomfort can harm their well-being and be an obstacle to their career.
  • Their condition can result in their being unable to work for shorter or longer periods.

On a national level, absences connected to mental health conditions such as anxiety represent enormous costs for companies every year. Leaves for even a few weeks exacerbate the problems that the shortage of labour has caused.

Act now to reduce anxiety

If you contribute to reducing anxiety, your resources can find job fulfilment and give the best of themselves. Plus, your actions and initiatives have benefits even for people without symptoms: You’re creating a healthier and more positive work environment.

Keep up-to-date

You can stay informed (as you’re doing right now!) and observe your team: People are different, but do you see symptoms or situations that are making your team uncomfortable?

What are the factors that cause anxiety in your company, and for whom? Be mindful: People can be bashful or afraid to talk about their mental health issues.

Meet with your employees

Meet with your employees individually on a regular basis and listen to what they have to say. Try to have these conversations in person or by telephone rather than online or in writing. Discussions on screen and by email can lead to misunderstandings that can feed anxiety.

Be genuine

Some managers are only interested in certain aspects of their employees’ situations, namely for obtaining information or achieving objectives. However, sincere listening and transparency create a welcoming space where members of your team can admit their vulnerabilities and ask for help.

It’s difficult for workers to admit their weaknesses. Never try to force people to confide in you but rather demonstrate that you want to create an environment where people can openly communicate. If you rely on these types of genuine relationships, the people you meet with will be at ease to talk to you about their anxiety.

Discuss your expectations and re-frame perceptions as necessary

Anxious people worry about their workload or about failing to meet expectations.

Take time to find out what your employees’ impressions are of your expectations. Is there too much on their plate? We all are swamped at times, but this should not be the normal situation.

A best practice: Ask team members to describe their next objectives with you and follow up regularly.

Prepare your team for upcoming change

Uncertainly is fertile ground for anxiety. Help the members of your team manage change. First, prepare them with clear, frequent messages that discuss the effects of the change. Provide training as necessary.

Here’s an example

In a small company outside the urban area, a new system will be replacing several IT tools. Management has prepared employees with monthly updates on how the project is progressing.

It has also planned training for the employees who are affected by the upcoming innovations.

Remind employees of the importance of work-life balance

Encourage your employees to disconnect at lunch time and after work hours and to take breaks. Let them know that they are not required to be available around the clock. If necessary, adopt a right-to-disconnect policy.

Family, friends, relaxation and pastimes play a big role in overcoming anxiety.

Facilitate access to resources and assistance programs

Encourage your people to use the services of your group benefits and the employee assistance program, if you have these tools.

Psychotherapy is one of the main methods for working on anxiety. If your staff have benefits covering consultations, ensure that they are aware of them so that they can take full advantage.

Good to know: the Anxiety Canada site (This hyperlink will open in a new tab). contains a number of resources.

Make physical and mental health one of your priorities

Anxiety eats up energy and undermines work performance. By promoting healthy lifestyle habits, you will see the effects on the well-being of your team and its productivity.

For example, encourage employees to take physically active breaks. Even a few minutes can make a difference. In addition to the physical benefits, doing this can affect psychological health both by preventing problems and by alleviating symptoms of anxiety. 

Many other activities have proven to be beneficial for mental health such as relaxation, mindfulness meditation, listening to music, etc. Your team could even prepare an anti-stress group playlist.

No need to be anxious about anxiety!

There are a number of reasons anxiety is on the rise at this time. On the other hand, if you take action to reduce and prevent it, your company will reap human and financial rewards.

You might discover that your team is reinvigorated just because your employees feel better.