Employees feel stressed when bosses ask them to do things outside their knowledge and they don’t feel like resources and support exists to help them succeed. They’re anxious when they don’t feel like they can cope, and that failure is going to hurt.
Anxious employees are less effective. They’re more likely to make mistakes. They have reduced energy for creative thinking. Over time they may come resentful or develop long-term mental health problems.
Top Causes of Anxiety
SHRM cites a study finding 80 percent of American workers are stressed out by at least one thing at work. Top stressors include:
- Low salaries
- Few opportunities for professional growth or advancement
- Too many responsibilities
- Extremely long hours
- Unrealistic expectations from management
The shift toward remote work has exacerbated anxiety issues. Schedules became flexible, and lines blurred between work time and personal time. Some employees had a harder time taking a mental break from work and put pressure on themselves to be always available and endlessly productive. Here’s how employers can help.
#1 – Teach Workers to Recognize Anxiety Early
Stress creeps in quietly, settling in like a shadow that eventually becomes a monster. People cope better when they notice anxiety early and refocus their thoughts in a positive direction. Have a frank conversation about how to recognize the symptoms of anxiety, relax in the moment and replace negative self-talk.
First, employees can self-check for physical symptoms. For some, anxiety feels like butterflies in the stomach or jittery hands and feet. Others feel tension in the neck and shoulders, headaches, an elevated pulse or shortness of breath. Sometimes it’s enough to listen to your body, take a few deep breaths and let go of things outside your control.
Next, identify the thoughts lurking in your subconscious that are causing anxiety. You may be telling yourself messages like these:
- If I don’t get this right, I’ll never have a chance at a promotion.
- I’m totally out of my depth here, I’m going to fail.
- I just sounded like a total idiot.
- I’ll never get everything done.
- They must think I’m _ (taking too long, not working hard enough, unqualified etc.)
- My boss will be furious if I let him/her down.
Replace those with statements that are truthful, supportive and kind.
#2 – Review Expectations
This past year, job responsibilities may have shifted so that employees are doing very different tasks from those for which they were hired. Employees might have said yes to new responsibilities, then found they didn’t have the time or the resources to keep up.
If things have changed, clarify how. Document which responsibilities they’ve taken on and ones for which they’re no longer responsible. Define expectations for work hours and communication outside of those times.
Employers and human resource professionals might analyze what changes have taken place to see if the expectations are still reasonable and if pay is fair for the skills and effort required. Adjusting responsibilities or providing a raise could turn stressed out workers into ones who are grateful and engaged.
Adjusting responsibilities or providing a raise could turn stressed out workers into ones who are grateful and engaged.
#3 – Express Appreciation
Send an email or stop staff members in the hall to thank them for their hard work. When projects pile up and you know teams are putting in extra hours to deliver, express recognition and gratitude. Offer an afternoon off or flexible scheduling to say thank you as they reach milestones.
#4 – Request Feedback
Encourage employees to speak up if there’s something they need. It might be training, software, office equipment, or clear pathways for growth. If it isn’t feasible have those conversations one on one, use a survey, email or comment box.
#5 – Hire More Staff
Many hands really do make light work. If there aren’t enough hours in the day to get the job done, and the workload is too heavy for existing staff, the best choice might be hiring additional employees. Tell us what your organization needs and we’ll be glad to help.