Quick overview on anxiety in the workplace

Woman having anxious thoughts at work
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We have been working with mental health charity Mind on a series of articles exploring mental health in the workplace. Take a look at the full content series today to get insight and advice on how to improve mental wellbeing throughout your organisation.

One in six workers are experiencing symptoms of a common mental health problem right now – that’s a big chunk of any workforce, and shows how central promoting positive mental health at work should be for organisations of all shapes and sizes.

Of all mental health problems, anxiety-related conditions are the most prevalent.

What is anxiety and what causes it?

Anxiety is what we feel when we’re worried, tense or scared, particularly about things that are about to happen or which we think could happen. Experiencing anxiety is a perfectly natural human response and, in certain situations, a bit of anxiety can be helpful.

But if you are feeling anxious a lot of the time and it begins to have an impact on your life then it could become a diagnosable mental health problem.

It’s not easy to say what causes anxiety problems but numerous factors could contribute, such as: past or childhood experiences, your current life situation (such as excessive stress, debt, housing problems or a bereavement) physical or other mental health problems, drugs or medication.

Problems at work can also be a big contributor to anxiety problems, with long working hours, unrealistic targets, poor working relationships or fear of redundancy being some of the causes of work-related stress that could lead to a mental health problem.

We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health.

Anxiety can be experienced in lots of different ways, and physical symptoms could include faster breathing, aches and pains, problems sleeping and nausea.

It’s worth remembering that anxiety encompasses a wide range of different diagnoses. The most common is generalised anxiety disorder, but you might also be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. There’s more information about what these diagnoses mean on Mind’s website.

How HR can help

Managing an employee who is experiencing anxiety shouldn’t be seen as different to managing any other member of staff, whether they have a mental health problem or not. After all, we all have mental health, just as we all have physical health.

Good people management and open communication are key, and we’d recommend a few rules of thumb:

  • Encourage people to talk by creating an environment where someone could be comfortable disclosing a mental health problem.

  • Focus on the person, not the problem – everyone’s experience will be different.

  • Avoid making assumptions on how anxiety will affect someone’s ability to do a job.

  • Respect confidentiality, not least because a breach of trust could negatively impact on someone’s mental health.

  • Respond flexibly – mental health problems affect everyone in different ways and at different times in their lives. Adapt your support to suit the individual.

  • Agree on practical steps to support someone’s mental health. You might want to consider developing a Wellness Action Plan.

Line managers play a key role in supporting all staff with their mental health, regardless of whether they have a diagnosis, but it’s also about wider cultural change.

You might want to think about running internal awareness-raising campaigns.

Employers needs to be proactive in supporting the mental health of all their staff and promoting positive wellbeing. This means having clear processes in place for supporting staff who are experiencing mental health problems and tackling the work-related causes of mental health problems.

You might want to think about running internal awareness-raising campaigns and signing the Time to Change employer pledge to help identify areas where you can improve.

Helping people with anxiety thrive

A person experiencing anxiety is still the same asset to your organisation. Even if someone is off work, it’s important to maintain regular contact about how they are and what can be done to help them return to work.

Discussing this in advance also provides reassurance that their contribution is valued and that their mental health is important.

People with mental health problems contribute 12 per cent of UK GDP, which is nine times more than the costs associated with mental health problems, and with the right support people experiencing anxiety can manage their condition and thrive for organisations of all shapes and sizes.


About Emma Mamo

Emma Mamo

Emma Mamo is Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind. Emma joined Mind in 2007 and, since 2010, has led Mind’s campaigning for mentally healthy workplaces - playing a pivotal role in thought leadership to position mental health in the workplace as a key priority for employers and Government.

Emma has led culture change through engagement with employers, health and safety professionals, HR audiences and Government on mental health in the workplace and back-to-work support for people with mental health problems. She also supports networks of employers and stakeholders to share best practice and develop business-to-business peer support. Emma has worked in the disability sector since 2005 and previously worked for Mencap, the learning disability charity.


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