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What can we do about workplace anxiety?

16 May 2023 | 4 minute read

By Colin Minto, Regional Talent Acquisition Lead for the UK, Ireland and Crown Dependencies

Workplace anxiety is common and can affect individuals across all industries and job roles. It can manifest in different ways, such as excessive worry, restlessness, fatigue, mistakes, accidents and even panic attacks.

With 76% of employees in the UK reporting high stress levels due to their jobs, understanding the reasons behind workplace anxiety and learning effective strategies to alleviate it are crucial for maintaining a healthy work environment and promoting employee well-being.

In this article, I’m going to share the underlying causes of workplace anxiety, common triggers, and provide practical steps individuals can take to reduce anxiety and enhance their overall workplace experience.

Why do people get anxious at work?

There are several factors that contribute to the development of workplace anxiety. Firstly, excessive workload and unrealistic expectations can overwhelm employees, leading to heightened stress levels. Struggling to meet deadlines, handling difficult projects, or feeling under constant scrutiny can all contribute to anxiety in the workplace. Additionally, a lack of job security, fear of layoffs, or financial instability can further exacerbate anxiety levels among employees. Micro-managing employees is a major driver of anxiety in colleagues.

Furthermore, interpersonal relationships within the workplace can significantly impact an individual’s anxiety levels. Conflicts with colleagues or superiors, a hostile work environment, or a lack of social support can all contribute to heightened anxiety. Perfectionism and the fear of making mistakes can also fuel workplace anxiety, as individuals may constantly worry about their performance and fear negative evaluations.

Common triggers of workplace anxiety

Workplace anxiety can be triggered by various circumstances and events. Some common triggers include:

  1. High-pressure situations: Presentations, client meetings or important projects with tight deadlines can trigger anxiety due to the fear of failure or underperformance
  2. Lack of control: Feeling a lack of control over one’s workload, work environment or decision-making processes can lead to heightened anxiety levels
  3. Unclear expectations: Vague instructions or ambiguous goals can create anxiety, as individuals may struggle to understand what is expected of them
  4. Work-life imbalance: When work demands overshadow personal life, individuals may experience anxiety due to the strain on their overall well-being
  5. Organisational culture: A toxic work environment, lack of support from superiors, or bullying can all contribute to heightened anxiety levels among employees

How to reduce workplace anxiety

  1. Self-care and stress management: Prioritise self-care activities such as exercise, healthy eating, sufficient sleep and relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation. Engaging in stress-reducing activities outside of work can have a positive impact on managing workplace anxiety. Building healthy and compassionate relationships inside and outside of work has an effective compound effect on stress and anxiety
  2. Effective time management: Organise and prioritise tasks, breaking them down into smaller, more manageable steps. Set realistic deadlines and communicate any concerns about workload with supervisors, fostering open lines of communication
  3. Seek social support: Cultivate positive relationships with colleagues and seek support from trusted individuals at work. Sharing concerns, seeking advice and collaborating with others can alleviate anxiety and foster a supportive work environment
  4. Develop coping mechanisms: Identify and practice coping mechanisms that work for you, such as journaling, engaging in hobbies or seeking therapy. These strategies can help manage anxiety both inside and outside of the workplace
  5. Communicate assertively: Clearly communicate your needs, boundaries and concerns to colleagues and superiors. Being assertive helps establish healthy boundaries and reduces anxiety caused by unclear expectations or interpersonal conflicts
  6. Develop a support network: Consider joining professional associations or networking groups related to your field. Engaging with like-minded individuals can provide valuable support and resources, as well as a sense of belonging
  7. Take breaks and practice self-reflection: Incorporate short breaks throughout the workday to recharge and refocus. Use this time for self-reflection, mindfulness exercises or engaging in activities that promote relaxation
  8. Leverage the resources provided by your employer such as knowledge portals, Employee Led Networks (ELNs), Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and, where applicable, private healthcare

Anxiety is a normal human experience. It’s driven by our threat system, which is designed to protect and stimulate us in times of challenge and danger. The threat system can become over-active via poor physical and mental conditioning, and the impact of life’s and work’s stresses and strains.

Businesses can take positive steps to alleviate pressure and stress in real-time for their employees. And, if applied continually, the compound effect is enhanced resilience to mitigate against stress, which in turn reduces incidents of anxiety.

About Colin Minto

As well as being a Talent Acquisition Lead for IQ-EQ, Colin Minto is a mental health, neurodiversity and wellbeing adviser in the corporate and political sectors. He delivers speeches on diversity, equity and inclusion as well as anxiety and OCD to audiences around the world, including the likes of Disney, the House of Lords, and Unilever.

Working with IQ-EQ has been seamless – you and your team understand our business, advise us appropriately, and handle your side of our collective partnership so that we can focus on making good investment decisions. Evan Gibson SVP, Merchants Capital

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