Guidance for leaders and people managers on workplace anxiety
Anxiety is a common concern for legal professionals and is one of the top three reasons people turn to LawCare for support.
There are steps individuals can take to reduce their feelings of anxiety but it’s important for leaders and employers to be proactive in helping staff manage anxiety. By doing so staff are less likely to experience work related mental ill health.
Workplace anxiety can involve feeling nervous, apprehensive, tense or stressed about work and can cause individuals to worry about a range of issues such as job performance, making mistakes, financial wellbeing, and relationships with colleagues. If not addressed, this can also lead to concerns for the individual outside work.
Anxiety in the workplace is often caused by heavy workloads, poor management, long working hours, a lack of autonomy and difficult relationships with colleagues.
Anxiety has a cost beyond the impact on the individual. The Health and Safety Executive found that stress, anxiety, and depression account for more than half of all work-related sickness absence. It may also contribute to presenteeism, which could affect productivity. Those experiencing anxiety may also be more likely to leave their job.
How to support a colleague experiencing anxiety
Spot the signs
Being able to recognise the signs that a colleague may be experiencing anxiety will enable you to have a conversation with them sooner and start providing support.
- Increased sick leave.
- Increased irritability.
- Declining performance.
- Poor concentration or focus.
- Struggling to make decisions.
Withdrawn and isolated from team members.
Getting to know your team will make it easier for you to spot these signs and changes in behaviour.
Get mental health training
If not already provided ask your employer to provide mental health training for you and other colleagues with people management responsibilities, so that you are able to spot the signs, feel confident in having a conversation with a colleague about their mental health and tackle stigma in your workplace.
‘The unknown’ is a common cause of anxiety for everyone in the workplace and many who experience anxiety fear opening up to their manager about how they are feeling. By holding regular face to face catch ups with colleagues and being open and clear in your communication, you can help to develop trusting relationships where colleagues feel safe to be honest about their concerns.
Make sure all conversations with anyone about their mental health are held in a private and comfortable space and be always mindful of their wellbeing. Use these catch ups to explore issues that may be anxiety inducing such as workload, meeting expectations and performance.
Encourage colleagues to suggest ways you can support them. Explore which practical workplace measures might make a difference. Recognise the value of reassurance - remember to acknowledge the positives in their work. Reassure them that they can reach out to you for help and support if they are struggling.
Communicate your confidentiality policy
Ensure all staff understand your organisation’s confidentiality policy. Trust is important to encourage staff to open up about their mental health, they need to know that this information will be kept strictly confidential, and if there are circumstances in which this will not be the case, ensure staff know this.
Trust people and be flexible
Give your people control and autonomy about how they perform their work and empower them to work in a way that suits them, manage their own workload, and meet expectations. This also helps improve both motivation and engagement.
Find out what is contributing to anxiety and manage this
Ask colleagues what may be contributing to their feelings of anxiety both in 1:1 sessions and across your organisation by using anonymous internal surveys. Once you understand what may be contributing to feelings of anxiety, take steps to reduce their impact.
Talk with colleagues experiencing anxiety and identify the changes to workplace practices that you can make to help them. By doing so you will help colleagues feel understood and able to work at their best. Reasonable adjustments that may help could be reducing their workload, allowing more time to meet deadlines and time off for therapy or counselling sessions.
If you are managing a colleague experiencing anxiety, work with them to make a plan of what you expect of them; remove uncertainty or expectations that may increase anxiety.
Be thoughtful about when to approach issues. So, if someone has just had a significant episode of anxiety this is not the time to be raising targets. They need your support; your aim should be to develop trust and an open dialogue, to help them manage their anxiety and know what measures are in place to support them.
Champion a mental health friendly culture
As a leader or people manager you can make a big difference to colleagues experiencing anxiety in the workplace. Create a warm, friendly environment where people feel they belong and are understood. This builds trust and closer working relationships where people are more likely to share worries.
By taking active steps to reduce those workplace factors that can contribute to anxiety you are creating a culture that supports the mental wellbeing of your people, so they are happier, healthier, and more productive.
Your role is to help create an environment where people feel able to be open about their anxiety, and to support any practical workplace measures that might help alleviate symptoms. In some cases, you may need to signpost to professional help. It is also important that you, as a manager, seek support for yourself if necessary.