Regardless of position held or job role, work is an important part of most people’s daily life. For those living with anxiety, the workplace can sometimes be a particularly challenging environment. Anxiety disorders are very common, with 1 in 6 of us in the UK experiencing symptoms of anxiety every week.. So knowing how to support an anxious employee is essential for any manager who wants to make a real difference to employee productivity and happiness at work. In this article, our guest blogger, Charlotte Underwood, describes five simple ways managers can help support an anxious employee at work.

Why support is important

It’s incredibly important for all of us to maintain not only our physical health but also our mental health too. A healthy mind, as well as a healthy body, is essential for us to be able to function in everyday life.

Mental illness can affect people’s ability to function. The World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks anxiety disorders as the sixth leading cause of disability in the world.

Looking after ourselves should therefore be a priority. But caring for our mental wellbeing is something that a lot of us don’t do particularly well. If we struggle to find time to care for our own mental health, then we should be concerned about whether we are doing this for our staff.

When it comes to running an efficient and productive workplace, mental health must be a key focus. When morale is low and employees are struggling to engage with their work, poor mental health may be the root cause. And you can bet your customers will notice the difference. This leads to a key point…

Happy employees mean customers and clients get better service

This is so important, it’s worth repeating. Happy employees equals better service. How often have you been served by a person who looks like they’d rather be doing anything else other than their job? Did you feel good interacting with them? Did you want to go back? I suspect not.

We’ve all been there and been frustrated by poor service. But it is important to remember here that employees are human, just like yourself. Life comes with trials and it is not always easy. Sometimes, people just won’t be at their best. As managers, we need to help them be at their best as often as possible.

A study from Warwick University shows that happy employees are 12% more productive.

There is also a duty of care for all employers to ensure that employees are supported through tough times. Employees are an essential resource for all businesses. They are humans beings, not robots. But consider this for a moment: even robots need looking after too.

Living with anxiety

I suffer from anxiety and have done for the most part of my life, I don’t actually remember a time outside of this heightened sensitivity that I have. I get scared, overwhelmed and worried all the time, over little simple things, such as everyday tasks. It’s been the biggest barrier in me being able to continue to work. When I don’t feel supported, I run away and that only causes problems for everyone.

Despite this, I can still perform just as well as other people. I’m not employable. I do believe though, that employers can always make improvements so that I, along with other anxious employees, can feel more valued and included.

All of my employment has been in customer service roles. This is incredibly common for people like me in their 20s. Although it is seen as a ‘basic’ job role, it can be highly taxing to a person with anxiety and often overwhelming. For a person with anxiety, dealing with a host of employees and customers can seem insurmountable some days. Anxiety often makes a person feel like they need to be alone to be safe.

Remember, anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses. Most of us will experience anxiety at some point in our lives. Though the condition can be chronic and difficult to understand, it can be managed with support.

The best ways in managers can support an anxious employee

1. Mental health days

Though embarrassing to admit, there have been countless times when I have called in sick with an illness completely unrelated to the pain that I am actually feeling. Some days, anxiety can just take control of me.

Mental ill health can be disabling at times, leaving you unable to leave bed or focus. On these days it should be acceptable now and again for an employee to take a mental health day – rather than blame it on a bad stomach for the sixth time that year.

Kate Palmer, writing for the BBC, explores the reality of mental health days in the UK. There are definitely positive changes happening to help employees with mental health problems. However in many sectors, the idea of a mental health day is still considered taboo.

To support an anxious employee, ensure that taking a day off for their mental health is not viewed differently than if they took a day off to get over a cold.

2. Safe spaces

I have found that the one thing many workplaces lack is a place of privacy to discuss personal issues. There have been times when I need to explain a situation of a sensitive nature, but this explanation has been expected in front of other employees or even customers.

It would certainly help build trust and honesty if a private place was offered to discuss sensitive issues. To support an anxious employee, something as simple as saying “Of course we can talk, would you rather we find somewhere quiet” would make a huge positive impact. Feeling safe is the most effective way to get my rising anxiety under control.

Forbes provides ‘15 Ways Your Organization Can Create A Safe Space In A Divisive World‘ to help companies bring safe spaces into work and explains the benefits of doing so.

3. Five-minute breathers

There are times where an employee may feel on the edge. There have been numerous times where I have burst into tears in front of customers due to being overwhelmed.

Offering five minutes breaks to an employee so they can take time to breathe will reduce the pressure. It would certainly have helped me take less ‘loo breaks’! If I knew it was OK to grab fresh air and let out pent-up emotions I could also have been more open about my intentions. This would have helped me personally and also helped break down workplace stigma.

Anxiety can leave you feeling like you can’t breathe, which is made worse in public. The idea of being able to calm down, even in a busy workplace, can be a lifesaver.

Psychology Today published an article that outlines several reasons why taking a break at work is not just good for de-stressing but also how it can improve productivity. It’s also important to remember that although you may be reading this to see how to support an anxious employee specifically, in doing so, you can help make other staff more productive too.

4. Open discussions

There is a lot of stigma around mental health in the workplace. I was always told that you should never bring the problems of your world into work. This way of thinking will not help you support an anxious employee. Though I can fully understand the reasoning, sometimes you just can’t shut off the thoughts in your head.

To support an anxious employee, you will need to ensure they can talk to you openly about how they feel. In my personal experience, trying to pretend to be okay at work for too long, when I just need to let it all out, has added up to a lot of sick days and poor work ethic. Talking to employees about the importance of self-care in and out of the workplace, as well as offering support to those struggling, can really raise morale.

5. Get Mental Health First Aid trained

In every workplace, you will find a first aid trainer who can be there to help in case of a physical injury to an employee or customer. However, mental health first aid is less well known and practised. Though there are more workplaces taking up this informative and lifesaving course; many employers just lack the knowledge or skills to deal with mental health crises.

By training in mental health first aid, you can better understand your employee’s mental health, as well as your own and your loved ones. You may even consider training your employees to really make an impact on understanding mental health and to learn how to support an anxious employee.

Natasha Devon, the former government mental health tsar has told The Independent how Mental Health First Aid training can go as far as saving lives.

Confidentiality is key

Mental health can be an incredibly sensitive subject. If an employee opens up to you, you must allow the employee to be heard in confidence. Manage the situation respectfully and discreetly. You cannot support an anxious employee if they do not trust you.

Always ensure that such matters are kept between the participating parties of the conversation. If any other persons must be involved, discuss this with your employee and explain the reasons why. If trust is broken it can create a dramatic negative impact on your reputation as a manager and that of the business. Keep in mind the old phrase – treat others how you wish to be treated.

We all have mental health

Remember, at the end of the day, we all have mental health. Each and every one of us could find ourselves struggling at some point in our lives. Taking time to listen, offering appropriate support and encouraging mental wellness practices throughout the workplace will not only raise the morale and work ethic of your employees, but it will also build relationships and forge inner strength.

This can not happen overnight. Building a mentally healthy workplace environment takes time and effort. Learning and growing is all part of the process. It is worth the effort. Trust me.

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about managing mental health in the workplace, you can get started with our Mental Health for Manager’s online course.

Delphis also offers on-site mental health workshops delivered and developed by highly educated business managers, academics and teachers. We guide companies along the path to creating mentally healthy, productive and rewarding working environments for their staff. The financial argument is compelling and caring for your employees is the right thing to do.

One major multi-national client says this about our workshops:

“Very relevant and informative with an engaging and inclusive style. Worth spending a whole day on. Loved the takeaway workbook, pretty much perfect, we need to roll out to whole company.”

Get in touch to discuss how we can provide customised mental health training for your organisation that fits your needs.