4 Ways managers can decrease anxiety in the workplace

4 Ways managers can decrease anxiety in the workplace

Employees commonly worry they are underperforming. For fear of job loss, many experience perceived pressure to skip breaks and avoid taking time off and others push themselves past the point of productivity. Essentially, anxiety and worry can cripple employee performance and negatively impact overall well-being. In fact, burnout is one of the top contributors to employee attrition.

A recent survey of full-time US employees found that 77% of respondents had experienced burnout at their current job, and 25% reported rarely or never taking advantage of all available vacation days. So what can be done? How can managers support their employees and decrease the levels of worry in their workplace? 

Here are some tips from a therapist on how to manage an employee with anxiety:

1. Be the Example

Work-life balance is an essential component of anxiety-reduction in the workplace. Healthy work-life balance allows your employees work-free space to restore and refresh and can contribute to a more engaged and productive workforce. As a manager looking for ways to reduce stress in the workplace, here are several simple ways you can set the example when managing employees.

Model this framework:

  • Use vacation time. Whether you choose to travel or take a relaxing “staycation,” give yourself a break from work to enjoy your personal life. Let your employees know you’re looking forward to the time off, so they feel permission to also enjoy time away to refresh.
  • Take regular breaks during the work day. Eat lunch away from your workspace, get coffee in the break room, or take a 5-minute walk around the block to help employees see that taking a moment away from your desk to reset is encouraged even during working hours.
  • Practice and encourage healthy work boundaries. For example, add a footnote to your email signature that offers receivers the freedom not to respond outside of normal work hours. Or during onboarding, discourage new employees from taking work home on the weekends.
  • Celebrate your employees’ time off and respect their time away by waiting to send emails until they’re back in the office.

Be human by:

  • Taking responsibility. It’s healthy for your employees to experience you as a human being who acknowledges your mistakes, missed opportunities, or poor communication. This kind of modeling has the power to free your employees from much of the performance-related worry that contributes to anxious thoughts, unnecessary stress and burnout.
  • Sharing your own feelings of workplace stress and worry. You don’t have to overburden employees, but letting them know you, too, experience worry on the job or feel stressed about deadlines contributes to a healthier, less-pressured work environment.
  • Sharing some personal information. You don’t need to overshare, but it’s helpful for employees to view you as a person with a life outside of work.

2. Send Clear Signals

Workplace anxiety can fester when employees don’t know what their role is. And while you can’t control your employees’ worry and anxiety levels, you can reduce confusion and ambiguity in your interactions with them. To do this, it’s important to send direct, clear, and respectful signals. Clearly communicate who is in charge of what, when deadlines are, and what your role is in different projects. This means delegating responsibilities and letting go of control so that your employees are empowered to take the lead. Most employees are fatigued by meetings, especially zoom meetings. To free up your employees’ time and mental space, try to only meet when necessary. When you do meet, define your expectations for the meeting. During large meetings, employee engagement and productivity are usually much higher when the person in charge directly communicates how they want others to participate in the meeting. To encourage employees, you might ask for feedback, approval, or active brainstorming. Whatever you ask for from others, make sure you tell them what you expect at the beginning of or before the meeting. 

In all of your interactions, try to make yourself readable and predictable to a degree. You want to be an emotionally safe manager that people understand even during difficult conversations.  Practice sharing your thoughts, ideas, and emotions using “I” statements. Try to match your expressions with your words. Don’t allow tensions or difficult situations to fester. You don’t want your employees wasting mental and emotional energy trying to figure out what you’re thinking and feeling, as this can impact employee performance.

3. Meet Consistently and Candidly 

People with high levels of worry spend lots of time replaying conversations and envisioning future scenarios. This type of thinking is a black hole for productivity and creativity. While you can’t get inside the minds of your employees, you can help create a culture of feedback and openness where they can freely express their worries and concerns that are contributing overall to their work anxiety.. Develop a cadence of weekly 1:1 check-ins with your employees. In a recent Harvard study, around 40% of global employees said no one at their company asked them if they were doing okay. This group that no one checked up on was 38% more likely to respond that their mental health had declined since the pandemic began. The key to creating a culture of candidness is to develop relationships with your employees where they feel safe. Focus on getting to know them, ask them questions about themselves, and find out more about their life and families.

Second, make it normal to talk about emotions with you. Share your feelings with them. This doesn’t mean confiding intimate personal details but rather expressing your feelings of stress, concern, or excitement about workplace situations. Let them know where you stand on different projects and what you feel about how the business is doing.

Third, give space and permission for your employees to say no. This applies to work tasks and also applies to offering guidance or feedback. You can ask them if they are open to hearing some of your ideas and feedback. You can give them the option to postpone or discuss things at the moment if they feel it is going to impact their mental wellbeing.

Last, directly ask your employees for feedback. Your employees will take their cues for you when it comes to how they communicate with you. Explicitly communicate to them that you want to create a culture of feedback and ask them to participate in making that happen. Then ask them for feedback on specific items and provide time and space for them to respond. 

Don’t forget that feedback is both positive and negative. If you want people to feel safe receiving hard feedback during difficult conversations, make sure that you are consistently offering specific positive feedback. Try to praise their efforts in certain situations as much or more than the completed tasks. Show your employees that you notice what they do well and appreciate their role on your team.  

4. Shape Work Culture 

As a manager, you have a crucial role to play in shaping the culture of your organization and team. Employees experience workplace stress and anxiety when they don’t know their work is valued or aren’t consistently receiving feedback about the quality of their work. 

On the other hand, gratitude and appreciation have been demonstrated to release dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, the neurochemicals associated with optimism, positivity and human connection.  Recent studies demonstrate that fostering a workplace culture of appreciation has several benefits, including improving overall employee wellbeing and job satisfaction, as well as decreasing exhaustion and cynicism among employees. Consider your employees’ individual preferences and needs when offering appreciation. Who responds well to direct, private feedback, and who appreciates public acknowledgement for a job well done? If you’re unsure, it’s okay to ask!  Encourage this amongst your team, as well. If you have a regular team meeting, consider starting meetings with an opportunity for coworkers to acknowledge one another with the practice of “team shout outs.”

In addition to words of appreciation, you can foster a culture of appreciation in tangible ways by celebrating big successes with an impromptu afternoon off, special perks or an employee recognition lunch. When employees experience the freedom to work from their strengths and contribute to the whole, they are less likely to feel anxious about performance. Finally, you can shape workplace culture by normalizing and prioritizing mental health and workplace wellness.

As a manager interested in how to support an employee with anxiety, you can demonstrate your care for their mental health and overall well-being by:

  • Highlighting company-sponsored mental health and wellness programs. Familiarize yourself with company-sponsored benefits, or coordinate with your company’s HR department to provide resources to support your employees in and outside of the work environment.
  • Promoting self-care and wellness. Offer mental health days or encourage team members to periodically take a day off to take care of themselves and tend to their personal life.
  • Taking the temperature of your team. Do you sense job stress or anxiety? Create space for regular one-on-one check-ins with employees to ask how you can support them, get to know your employee’s professional goals, and solicit feedback. Acknowledge when a tight deadline or project is feeling particularly stressful.

If you are looking for ways to support your employees’ mental health, consider attending this Talkspace workshop with your team. 

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