Supporting Anxious Employees: A Manager's Guide

May 29, 2024 | New Workplace Leadership | 5 min read

With May being Mental Health Awareness month, it only seems fitting to spotlight one of the most common mental health considerations for managers everywhere, anxious employees. While, for many, these nerves aren’t present to the naked eye, more than 40 million adults understand and empathize with this part of the human experience. 

Navigating the complex landscape of anxiety in the workplace can be as challenging as it is vital. For some, it appears as a simple double-checking with their manager, for others it can impact the way they show up to meetings and interact with teammates. 

While individual anxiety and wellness look different for everyone, one common denominator is the influence a manager has on an employee's daily experience at work. An interaction with a manager could be the difference between a good day and a very anxious one.  

According to Forbes, almost 70% of people believe their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or their doctor. For managers, recognizing and supporting anxiety-related issues isn't just an act of empathy—it's a strategic move to foster a healthier, happier, and more productive workplace. 

Being a great leader and manager means making the extra effort to understand their teams' individual traits and see how they can facilitate a supportive, inclusive, and understanding environment that lets every employee bring their full self to work every day.

The Ripple Effect: How Anxiety Influences Work Performance and Teams

Anxiety doesn't just affect the individual; it seeps into team dynamics and overall organizational performance. Understanding this ripple effect is critical for managers. The more they are attuned to the signs, the better they can provide individual support and guidance to enhance the employee's presence at work and support their personal and professional growth. 

Individuals and teams might experience: 

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Building a Haven: Strategies to Foster a Supportive Workplace

Creating an environment that acknowledges and accommodates anxiety-related needs is a proactive measure that can improve employee well-being and organizational culture.

  • Communication is Key: Foster an open-door policy where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health. Offer ways for them to communicate their needs.
  • Flexibility: Allow for flexible work hours or remote work, which can provide a sense of control that is often lost in the grip of anxiety.
  • Education and Training: Provide training for all employees on recognizing and handling anxiety in the workplace. This democratization of knowledge can reduce stigma and increase support.
  • De-stigmatizing Leave: Ensure that taking mental health leave or using employee assistance programs (EAPs) is not seen as a stigma but rather as a necessary and supported action.

Crafting a Supportive Management Style for Anxiety Disorders

Managers can greatly influence the well-being of their direct reports through their leadership approach. Here are some tips on managing with empathy and support:

  • Regular Check-ins: Schedule routine, private check-ins with your employees to discuss work-related concerns and any support they might need.
  • Clear Expectations: Provide clear, achievable goals and support employees in reaching them. This clarity can help reduce anxiety about performance expectations.
  • Empower Decision-Making: Empower employees to make decisions related to their work whenever possible, which can alleviate the distress associated with inadequate control.
  • Accommodations: Be open to adjusting work conditions if triggers are identified, within reason and keeping the team's needs in mind.

Empower and Instruct Your Team on Managing Anxiety at Work

Creating a supportive environment also involves empowering the broader team with knowledge and understanding of how anxiety can be present at work and what ways employees can support themselves and one another in managing it.

Appropriate Language & Behavior: Instruct the team on using inclusive, respectful language and on being mindful of their conduct, especially during high-stress situations. This includes refraining from making assumptions or jokes about mental health, which can be harmful and alienating for those experiencing anxiety. By fostering a culture of respect and sensitivity, managers can help create a more supportive and understanding workplace. Additionally, providing training on emotional intelligence can equip team members with the skills to navigate stressful interactions more effectively.

Respect Privacy: Encourage colleagues to respect personal space and not press for details if an employee seems anxious. Instead, create a supportive atmosphere where team members feel safe to share only what they are comfortable disclosing. This approach fosters trust and helps maintain the individual's dignity while reducing unnecessary stress.

Mental Health Awareness EducationProvide resources and reading materials in common areas to promote understanding of anxiety and related challenges. This can include brochures, posters, and access to online webinars that offer insights into recognizing symptoms and coping mechanisms. By making these materials readily available, you empower employees with the knowledge they need to support themselves and others more effectively.

An Ongoing Commitment: Developing a Long-term Mental Health Strategy

Finally, understand that managing anxiety in the workplace is not a one-time task but an ongoing commitment. A holistic approach that integrates mental health into the fabric of your organization can lead to lasting benefits.

  • Regular Training and Refreshers: Commit to ongoing training sessions or webinars on mental health awareness and strategies to manage and support anxiety in the workplace.
  • Adjust and Repeat: Be willing to adjust your support strategies as your team grows and changes, and as research and best practices evolve.
  • Recognition and Rewards: Acknowledge individuals and teams who demonstrate understanding and support for colleagues with anxiety, fostering an ethos of acceptance and assistance.
  • Inclusive Policy Development: Involve employees in the development of mental health policies and procedures, ensuring that their voices and experiences are central to the conversation.

The presence of anxiety in the workplace requires a proactive approach from all levels of management. By understanding the signs, effects, and strategies for supporting employees with anxiety, managers can play a crucial role in creating a healthy work environment that values the whole person, not just their output. 

Your people matter. Making sure they feel heard, supported, and protected at work is fundamental. 

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month from Skillsoft!