Anxiety in the workplace

The silent killer of productivity and employee health

– Widespread anxiety is hardly unique to 2020 – in fact if you are a human being living in today’s world without feeling anxious, you may just be considered a unicorn! Recent surveys show that only a small percentage of people are actually diagnosed with anxiety disorders, whereas the majority of us are living with undiagnosed anxiety and depression, or have at least experienced one or the other at some point in our lives. Living in a constant state of stress and worry not only affects our personal lives but has a negative impact on our job performance as well.

If you are an anxious person this scenario will look quite familiar to you: you are at work, chatting away with your colleagues, minding your own business or going about your day when you slowly feel anxiety creeping in. You find yourself avoiding people, eating your lunch alone, worrying that if someone is noticing your withdrawn behaviour, or you don’t even want to get out of bed for work, to begin with. Almost everyone has days where they absolutely dread going to work, either due to an imminent deadline or fear of talking in front of people. However, it is important that we understand the difference between work anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Anxiety and stress caused by work, or within the workplace, is known as work anxiety and results in underperforming employees which means productivity suffers. On the other hand, anxiety disorders are a group of illnesses including several phobias and disorders, characterised by a number of symptoms. In order for a person to have a diagnosis of anxiety disorder those symptoms must be met for a specified duration of time and impact functioning in other areas of life, not just work. In both cases, the symptoms of anxiety are pretty similar: you may experience irrational or excessive worrying, fatigue, restlessness, dry mouth, racing heart, shaking, exaggerated startle reaction, sweating and changes in your sleep and appetite. In simpler words, your body is on high alert. For some people it is a persistent feeling, whereas for others it may be directed towards an activity, such as work or public speaking.

Anxiety in the workplace can drastically reduce the motivation of employees, leading to poor quality of life for most. Those who experience anxiety and stress at work are likely to experience less job satisfaction. Consequently, when employees don’t feel satisfied with their jobs, they will engage in other unhealthy behaviours such as alcohol, smoking, drug abuse and violence. Whatever the manifestation of these symptoms may be, it is without any doubt a bad influence on the work environment, the company’s productivity and employee turnover. If left untreated anxiety can eat up the sharpest brains behind the company’s success and create a downright toxic environment. Yet little has been done to manage the mental health of staff within even billion dollar companies.

Some business consultants believe that long working hours, bullying, discrimination, lack of direction, a demanding environment and low rewards are just some of the reasons for workplace anxiety; and that may be true, to some extent. However, psychologists believe that some people may be more prone to anxiety than others, whether it be due to their genetic makeup, or early life experiences. Imagine a child forgetting his lines in front of everyone during a debate competition and the other kids laughing and teasing him about it, the same child may grow up to be a valuable asset for your company, but still stays up the whole night before giving a presentation in front of clients. Eventually, his fear of embarrassing himself and blowing up a big contract will take a toll on his performance and overall health. Is the same company going to fire him due to his declining performance, or get him the help he needs? Most employees never dare to find out, instead living in constant fear that if they divulge their mental health problems they may be sacked, or worse, never be hired in the first place.

This conundrum of getting anxious over getting anxious creates an inescapable vicious circle and that can never be good for any business, not to mention the health of the employee. Regardless of the 9-5 culture, demanding work or low wages, it is important to appreciate that anxiety and stress levels are increasing by the day; especially in the midst of a global pandemic. You can exert mental control or practice mindfulness, but it is acceptable to feel anxious. In fact, a little anxiety can even be productive. Being anxious does not make anyone less talented, less competent or less deserving.

There are ways for companies and managers to identify workers who are suffering and help them manage their troubles, if they just look closely enough. A happier, healthier workforce not only increases productivity but also means employees are more engaged and have a positive mindset, thereby providing better customer service. After all, happy workers = happy profits!

Contact Us

If you’re interested in finding out more about how Trace Data Science can help your organization succeed in the transition to the Skill Economy, get in touch.