When workplaces begin to reopen after the current pandemic has eased the one thing most experts agree on is that things will never really be the same again, and that extends to the levels of anxiety and stress your returning employees will feel.
To be anxious means to be in a state of worry or nervousness about something when the outcome is uncertain. Sometimes it is work that induces this anxious state. When work causes an individual’s anxiety, work anxiety is the outcome.
But how does work cause anxiety?
To answer this, we have to turn our attention to another emotional state: stress.
Stress is like anxiety, however, a subtle difference between the two terms defines them apart.
Stress is a response to an external stimulus. This could be a tight deadline, a presentation that is due, etc. Stress will usually subside when the situation has resolved.
Anxiety has internal origins. It is a feeling of unease or dread with no external stimuli cause. You can think of anxiety as stress persisting after the previous concern has passed. Further persistence of these feelings will create an anxiety disorder, the most common mental health issue in the U.S. with 1 in 5 individuals affected.
You could describe anxiety as water, manifesting itself in many forms. Anxiety comes in the form of panic disorders, PTSD, social anxiety, phobias, OCD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Once more, like water, anxiety is not a permanent state. It is a flowing feeling that comes from within and is ignited by certain environmental triggers. In reference to work anxiety, work is the trigger.
Despite the difference, stress and anxiety are linked. Although it is possible for anxiety to manifest itself without an external stimulus imposing stress, stress has been attributed as a fundamental anxiety cause.
Coming back to the question: How does work cause anxiety?
The answer: By causing stress.
Work Anxiety and Stress
The Kron Ferry’s Workplace Stress Continues to Mount survey indicated the number of work-related stress cases in 2018/19 was 602,000, a prevalence rate of 1,800 cases per 100,000 workers. That can be expected to rise sharply after COVID-19.
What’s more, feelings of stress and unease in the workplace have increased by 20% in the last three decades.
Listed in this report are key sources of stress, the top two are:
An individual’s boss, with 35% of respondents citing this as a work-place stress trigger. Leadership change, with 80% of respondents indicating that a new direct manager or someone else higher up in the organizational chart, instigates feelings of unease.
Stresses will impact employees on a personal level. According to the survey, work-place stress had:
- A negative impact on personal relationships, with 76% of surveyed respondents indicating this.
- Lost sleep, with 66% of surveyed respondents stating this.
- Resignation as a result of overwhelming job stress, with 16% of surveyed respondents indicating this.
These personal level impacts create even more stress, causing a vicious cycle of negative, stressful events.
Stress can be a good thing, otherwise known as good stress. Good stress helps to keep us motivated and increases our attention and memory.
Prolonged, high-levels of stress, however, can be bad, negatively impacting an individual’s well-being and happiness.
Some people will react to stress by feeling anxious. Prolonged stress and the associated feelings of anxiety could lead to an anxiety disorder.
Why should the workplace care about the anxiety and stress levels of its employees?
Well, for one, it’s about being a decent human being of the 21st century.
Two, if we are talking facts and figures, you want your employees to be happy, as happier workers…
- Are 13% more productive and engaged
- Make better decisions
- Have better time management
- Form stronger relationships with teammates
- Are more creative
- Have greater loyalty
Bad stress and anxiety are not positive emotions that align with happiness. If you want happier employees, work anxiety and its cause (stress) must be dealt with head-on. The need for mental health support is greater than ever, and it will be up to you as manager to help facilitate it.
Work anxiety: Take action on anxiety, what you can do as a manager
Strategies to reduce anxiety function by keeping anxiety at manageable levels. We give you our top individual strategies to reduce anxiety, and therefore anxiety in the workplace.
Once the biological mechanisms of anxiety are understood, it becomes easier to strategize and alleviate anxiety to a manageable level. To re-iterate, everyone experiences negative emotions – stress, anxiety, and unhappiness. Whether this is work-related, family-related, or an exact cause cannot be upheld, the principles remain the same.
Whether this is impacting your day-to-day life or not, being aware of your mental state is vital. It is drilled into us to brush our teeth, exercise and eat well for our physical health. Our mental health, and incorporating strategies to take care of that, is as important and should not be cast-aside from ill-disposed stigma.
Only 36.9% of those suffering from anxiety receive treatment. Yet anxiety is highly treatable. There is a flood of new research guiding clinicians and patients to the most effective treatments.
In the spot-light is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a goal-orientated psychotherapy treatment, that takes a hands-on, practical approach, changing negative thought patterns to help patients break the anxiety cycle via facing their fears/triggers eyeball-to-eyeball. Other treatments can include medication or traditional talk therapy.
As a manager work with your company's health insurance provider to ensure that employees understand that treatment is available and how to ask for it. And doing so is very important, as the post COVID-19 success of your team, and your company, will depend on the happiness and mental health of your workforce.