Woman sits at desk with fingers on her temples.

Whether your business has continued operations during the global pandemic or is currently working on a re-entry plan as many areas begin to open back up, employees are likely feeling high levels of anxiety.

In fact, they were likely feeling anxious about work before the coronavirus pandemic came around. On top of that, employees are dealing with stress and fear about what the future holds.

Stress and anxiety from work is so pervasive that the American Institute of Stress found that 83% of employees suffer from workplace stress.

Let’s look at the differences between fear, stress, and anxiety, and what you can do to alleviate anxiety and its effects in your workplace.

Fear, Stress, and Anxiety

These three emotional states are often used interchangeably to describe how someone is feeling, however, there are differences between them.

Fear is the reaction to a very specific and tangible danger that instinctually sets off a fight, flight, or freeze response. Pupils may dilate, skin may appear pale, and a person may freeze in place.

Stress is the body’s response to an external event or stressor such as a tight deadline or medical test. Symptoms include clammy hands, a fast heartbeat, and shallow breathing.

Anxiety is a lot like fear, except it’s the body’s reaction to an unknown or uncertain outcome. It is possible to be anxious about things that will likely never have an effect in our lives. Symptoms can include tension in the body, sleep disturbances, nausea, shaking, and shortness of breath.

There is, however, a difference between feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of anxiety disorders greatly interfere with someone’s ability to function at their best for extended periods of time.

How Employee Anxiety Can Affect Your Business

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population every year.

If anxiety runs high in your workplace, it can have a negative effect on your business.

Those feeling anxious are often tired, irritable, unfocused, and unmotivated. These symptoms could result in tasks taking longer than normal or deadlines being missed completely.

Absenteeism or used sick days could also rise if employees feel anxious. Mental Health America’s 2017 Mind the Workplace survey found that 53% of people that take off work for stress or anxiety missed six or more days in one month. Those high rates of absenteeism result in reduced productivity and performance.

Another concern is low employee morale. Low morale affects confidence, productivity, and enthusiasm for your company and the work you’re doing.

Triggers of Work Anxiety

There are several internal and external factors that can affect an employee. While you may not be able to fully address external factors, there are internal triggers you can help ease, such as:

  • Tight deadlines and heavy workloads
  • Poor relationships with peers
  • Issues with direct managers
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Job insecurity

You may be wondering “If anxiety is an issue, why don’t my employees speak up?” An ADAA study asked respondents this exact question, and here is what they said:

  • 34% are fearful that managers will see it as a lack of interest or unwillingness
  • 31% fear being labeled as “weak”
  • 22% think it would affect promotions
  • 20% think they will be laughed at or not taken seriously

How You Can Help Ease Workplace Anxiety

It’s important to address the mental health of your employees not only to your benefit but theirs as well. There are myriad ways to help address anxiety in the workplace.

Provide your employees with empathetic supervisors that have open communication policies. This will boost transparency while also helping teams build quality relationships. Employees will feel more comfortable sharing their feelings and engaging managers when they are feeling anything other than their best.

Setting managers up as effective coaches can also help alleviate any anxiety your employees could be feeling. Coaches guide, advise, and give feedback to employees. They direct them to the right resources, tools, and techniques to use when they are feeling stressed or need to diffuse a conflict. Building this partnership can help employees feel like someone supports them and like they have somewhere to turn if they are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out.

Many employees likely feel high levels of anxiety around performance review time. The best way to alleviate this is to have more one-on-one, lighthearted conversations on a regular basis. This will help employees know if they are on the right track and adjust accordingly, and it will allow managers to give feedback more often. This also works as a way to develop the relationship and build trust.

Developing emotional intelligence, or EQ, can help managers describe how they’re feeling and develop ways to empathize and communicate with their team. Emotions can help or hurt situations and people, so being able to manage them well helps to avoid unintentional hurt and create more positive outcomes. Also, showing empathy helps foster trust, and that in turn builds stronger relationships.

When people collaborate, they share a common goal. Having employees work together on projects can help eliminate stress and anxiety over big projects. Each employee is carrying some of the load, and they have one another for support and to turn to if they are struggling.

While there are introverts that may feel their anxiety spike when they hear the phrase “team building,” these activities can be a useful tool for reducing anxiety. Not all of them must focus on the high-energy extroverts. Team building helps build a strong team culture and connection, aids in identifying people’s strengths, delivers conflict resolution strategies, helps develop EQ, and improves communication. When a team goes through something together, it brings them closer. Having that shared experience can help teams feel more at ease and more connected to each other.

Work anxiety happens to everyone.

The more people fear it, the worse it gets. Knowing the difference between stress, fear, and anxiety, and implanting these strategies can help build stronger, closer teams, while opening a dialogue about mental health in the workplace.

Our online learning library helps to keep that dialogue going and increase employees’ awareness and ability to manage mental health better. Click here to see how our training content can help your organization.

Want to see a sample of our video content? Click the play button below to watch a one-minute clip from “Workplace Mental Health: Introduction.”