This month we’re focussing on the very real condition of anxiety in the workplace. We have probably all experienced anxiety symptoms at some stage in our careers, whether it be the first day of a new job, a performance review, or trying to meet challenging targets and deadlines. A little anxiety is actually good for us, it gets the blood flowing and keeps us on our toes. It can even help us to perform better. But for some of us it can be overwhelming and have the opposite effect.

Signs of Workplace Anxiety

 Ultimately, anxiety stems from fear of the unknown – things that might or might not actually take place. What will happen if I don’t get promotion, my new boss doesn’t like me, or that report doesn’t get done on time? Whilst fear of failure itself is usually a temporary response to a situation, anxiety is an ongoing state of mind and some of us can be more naturally disposed to it than others. It can take many forms which, in more severe cases, can be treated as a recognisable disorder (OCD, panic, separation anxiety).

There are many signs of anxiety in the workplace but these are some of the most common:

  • Constantly worrying, self-doubt, trying to be perfect
  • Difficulty concentrating on the task in hand, feeling stuck
  • Feeling irritable, tired, snappy – even crying
  • Difficulty in breathing, relaxing or sleeping – increased heart rate
  • Being unenthusiastic, loss of confidence, interest and motivation towards work

Whatever its causes, prolonged anxiety can affect the way we think and perform in the workplace. It can influence our emotional state and lead to poor decision making. Unchecked, it can make us feel unworthy and demotivated. We might not want to try anything new for fear of failing. There can be the physical symptoms of stress too, like fatigue, sweating and elevated heart rate. Whether we experience this in ourselves or recognise it in others, we should be aware that living with too much anxiety can be unhealthy and unproductive. Fortunately there are things we can do to manage and reduce it significantly.

Reducing Anxiety

Once we identify unhealthy levels of anxiety we can start to address it. First, we should try to remove the cause, especially if it’s constantly recurring. For example, we can:

  • Discuss unrealistic deadlines and expectations with our managers
  • Ask managers and colleagues for support and understanding
  • Work to improve our working relationship with colleagues
  • Distance ourselves from difficult colleagues
  • Change our approach to handling a constant problem
  • Be realistic about our ambitions and the goals we set ourselves
  • Make efforts to organise and prioritise our workload better

In a perfect world we’d always be able to remove the cause of our anxiety but of course that’s not always possible. Beyond this then, there are some coping mechanisms that can really help too. We can practice mindfulness to understand that we are feeling anxious about something that can’t actually harm us. A positive frame of mind, noting our successes and maintaining a healthy sense of perspective will increase our confidence levels no end. We can also work on our physical wellbeing (exercise and diet) and a good work/life balance.

Managing Anxiety at Work

In today’s evolving workplace managers need to become adept at managing employees with anxiety because worried employees can negatively impact a team and lead to poor performance. When work-related anxiety reaches unhealthy levels it becomes prevalent in the whole culture of the workplace and the success of the organisation itself is at risk. Only if managers are able to differentiate between healthy and excessive anxiety, and understand how sometimes work is causing anxiety, can they make the important decisions that help to support and motivate their teams.

The Gallantium Team.

Further reading and useful support materials: