Managing anxiety in the workplace

Learn five key things to keep in mind when supporting employees with anxiety.

Anxiety is a common mental health condition. In recent times, famous celebrities have been opening up about their struggles with anxiety, but as with most mental health conditions, there is still a real reluctance for people to speak out about it.

It could be affecting your employees and you may be in the dark about it. This is particularly troubling because anxiety can negatively affect an employee’s productivity and performance, and lead to absences or even resignations.

So whether an employee is suffering from a phobia, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or a generalised anxiety disorder, it is of paramount importance that all managers in your organisation are well-equipped to manage anxiety in the workplace.

Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  • Check in with your employees

It is beneficial to have regular one to one meetings with your employees as this provides them with a forum to discuss their concerns and allows you to speak to them if you have spotted anything that is causing you alarm.

  • Train your managers

You could explore different options to arm your managers with the right knowledge and understanding about anxiety – you could see if you can get an expert to come in and give a talk or look for some local workshops.

Your managers should feel comfortable and confident talking about anxiety, stress or depression, so make sure they know to approach the employee to discuss mental health, deal with someone if they become very emotional and how to avoid making assumptions.

  • Develop an action plan

If it is found that an employee suffers from anxiety, you should explore how it affects them, what their triggers are and how it can be managed.

  • Think of possible adjustments

Under the Equality Act 2010, a worker will be considered disabled under the Act if they can show that they suffer from a long term (i.e. 12 months or more) physical or mental impairment which has a substantial (i.e. more than trivial) effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

So if an employee can show that the effect of their anxiety has lasted at least 12 months, is likely to last for at least 12 months, or is likely to last for the rest of their life and it has a significant adverse impact on the way they carry out daily tasks, such as affecting personal relationships with others or being able to concentrate on tasks, they may meet the definition of disabled under the Equality Act.

If this is the case, you need to think about what reasonable adjustments you can put in place. For example, if the employee has said they are anxious about working in an open place office and this is affecting their ability to concentrate and focus on tasks, you could consider giving them a private office or providing a walled partition. If they have been off work for some time, you could agree on a phased return to work to get the employee back into work. You could consider how to reduce the burden of a high workload, provide them with time off for appointments or allow them some flexible working.

  • Highlight support services at their disposal

If you have certain services available, make sure they are aware of them. This could include an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), counselling or a buddy system.

Dealing with anxiety in the workplace can be tricky and so do get in touch with your Employment Law Adviser to discuss further.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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