Anxiety in the Workplace: What You Need to Know
The modern working environment is becoming increasingly pressurised and stressful. The combination of rapid change, technology, the pursuit of efficiency, deadlines, office gossip and politics, and the never-ending demands of our personal lives can take a massive toll on anyone.
Anxiety in the workplace is so common nowadays that we take it for granted. Stressed at work? Welcome to the corporate world! Hate your boss? Join the long queue because we all do!
Unfortunately, far too many people believe that stress at the workplace is necessary for increasing productivity. Many more brag about the ability to “thrive under pressure.”
Do organisations care about mental well-being of their employees? Unfortunately, most corporations obsess more about profits, growth, and the ever-present threat of competition than they do about the mental welfare of employees. However the tide is slowly changing as more companies become aware of the positive effect that a mentally resilient workforce can have on their bottom line.
The Difference Between Stress & Anxiety
Our body’s natural defence mechanism is the stress response and it is triggered when the mind senses a threat in its environment. This is a very adaptive process as in it is useful when escaping from physical threats like lions and tigers but unfortunately it gets triggered for psychological threats like having to meet a tight deadline.
Some low levels of short-term stress can be useful as it elevates the sense and can sharpen focus. However, long term elevated stress levels are very toxic for the body as this is not what we evolved to deal with. If we continuously operate in an environment that triggers our stress response we can end up living in a body and mind that begins to suffer from chronic stress.
Furthermore, if our stress response is becoming automatically and inappropriately triggered by our sub-conscious mind, this is anxiety.
Workplace Anxiety is Not a Type of Anxiety
Workplace anxiety is not a separate type of anxiety but rather it is an environment in which your anxiety manifests itself. You may very well be suffering for OCD, PTSD or Generalised Anxiety Disorder that are being triggered or are manifesting in the workplace.
Workplace Anxiety Is Bad For Your CV
As the business environment becomes ever more disrupted, it is employees who bear the brunt of increased performance pressure at the workplace. A worker who cannot handle excessive pressure becomes unnecessary baggage, a failure or a liability to the “team.”
Truth be told, almost everyone at work, including your grossly overpaid CEO, suffers from some level of work-related stress and anxiety. It’s, therefore, no surprise that the mantra feels like “carry your own cross – that’s just all part of working here”
The result? An extremely high prevalence of stress-related problems, mental health challenges and physical health related issues; all in a potentially highly toxic work environment. The fake aura of the invincible, I-perform-better-under-pressure employee is now ever-present on everyone’s resume.
Workplace Anxiety and Personal Stress Are Inseparable
Workplace anxiety is a two-faced monster for those who suffer it. It equally impacts your personal relationships and your workplace performance. In fact, workplace anxiety is commonly caused by personal problems. Way too often, the problems we develop in our personal lives tend to be reflected at the workplace. For example, if you have marriage difficulties, it’s only natural that your stress and frustration blow up at work. Employees with stressful personal problems such as divorce, family conflicts, or financial difficulty are more likely to perform poorly at work, get into disputes with fellow employees, or cause financial loss through negligence.
Similarly, it’s impossible to have a great family life or a happy relationship if you have workplace problems. All too often, a spouse will become withdrawn, irritable, sexually unresponsive, and distant at home due to frustrations at work. Don’t carry the office home!- How often do we hear that from our spouses? The two environments are inseparable. Managing problems in one make life much easier for everyone in the other.
What Causes Workplace Anxiety?
As an organisation, it is vital to beware of some of the common workplace causes that can trigger anxiety in an employee. They include but are not limited to:
Not having the skills to perform the role or function properly that they are assigned. This usually occurs when someone is promoted to a position with greater responsibility. In particular, this happens when the individual feels that they lack the skills while having to face a perception that they should be able to carry out the role without any additional support or training.
Excessive workload as the result of:
- Unrealistic expectations imposed by management on employees
- Inefficient systems and processes at work
- Lack of adequate resources, e.g., staff/budget, etc.
- Inequitable division of workload, i.e., someone not pulling their weight
- Inability to say “No” resulting in taking on too much work possibly due to a lack of assertiveness
- Lack of self-management skills such as poor time management or organisational skills
Poor Interpersonal, Relationship & Communication Skills:
- An aggressive or overbearing managerial style of a superior
- Poorly handled review processes, resulting in unfair criticism by a superior which fuels self-doubt
- Little or no feedback provided on performance, whether positive or negative
- Poor team dynamics and communication
- Traumatic Work Related Event
- Interpersonal conflicts
- Workplace bullying by either a superior or a peer
- Significant mistake or error
- Workplace accident or incident
- A working environment where mistakes are not tolerated
Concerns about employment status
- This includes rumours of cutbacks, downsizing or layoffs which puts additional financial pressures on an employee.
Anyone or a combination of these triggers can trigger stress, anxiety and or depression in an employee. If it is allowed to persist for a period of time, then it will begin to have a significant impact on the individual’s productivity.
It is also possible that more than one member of a team can be suffering from anxiety at the same time. This can multiply the effect on the productivity of the team or organisation as a whole.
It’s normal to feel anxious when with faced with an impending deadline at work. It’s also normal to hate waking up to go to work after a great weekend with friends and family. This type of anxiety is temporary and a part of everyday life.
However, if being at work or just thinking about it gives you heart palpitations or sleepless nights for months or years, then you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder that must be treated immediately.
The following are tell-tale signs of anxiety in the workplace that everyone should watch out for:
- Physical Symptoms: Insomnia, heart palpitations, persistent stomach upsets, sweating, headaches, muscle tension, chronic fatigue, and skin problems.
- Psychological Symptoms: Irritability, poor decision making, lack of concentration, mood swings, discouragement, and negativity.
- Behavioural Signs: Absenteeism, frustration, intolerance, impatience, isolation, disinterest, aggression, low creativity, and poor interpersonal relationships.
Anxiety in the Workplace is Debilitating!
While most people can handle a relatively high degree of stress and pressure temporarily, at a certain stage stress levels for some can become so elevated they develop chronic stress or anxiety and/or depression.
For the employee, it can impact their personal and professional relationships, their health, their finances, and their employment status.
For the organisation, it can mean lowering of performance, increased or extended absenteeism, loss of key employees and a negative impact on team dynamics and morale.
Eliminating workplace anxiety should, therefore, be a priority for any business that wants to remain competitive, profitable, and able to attract and retain the best talent.
While we all cannot match the extremes that companies like Google go to create the happiest workers in the world, there is a lot that can be done to lower workplace anxiety. It’s definitely no secret that happy employees will treat your customers better and be more productive.
If you are suffering from workplace anxiety with the right treatment you can become a valued member of your organisation again without having to unnecessarily suffer the effects of stress.