How to support employees with anxiety

How to support employees with anxiety
How to support employees with anxiety

posted 15 May 23

Health and wellbeing were widely spoken about during the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdowns. However, in a post-pandemic world, many people are continuing to experience mental ill-health, with research revealing that 60% of employees experiencing anxiety.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has also found that anxiety, depression and stress account for 55% of all lost working days. However, The Workplace Health Report: 2023 discovered that only 10% of employees are seeking mental health help.

Mental Health Awareness Week (May 15 to 21) this year focuses on anxiety. In this article, what to look out for as an employer as well as the ways in which you can support employees living with anxiety.

Recognising signs and symptoms of anxiety

Being able to recognise signs and symptoms of anxiety in the workplace is essential for both employers and employees to promote a healthy and supportive work environment. It can be challenging for employees or colleagues to discuss their mental health struggles, making it crucial to have leadership and managers who can identify the differences between everyday stress and mental health issues. By recognising the signs of anxiety, managers can better support their staff and colleagues.

If you are unsure about the signs of anxiety, Mental Health UK lists the different symptoms that someone may have. They include but are not limited to:

  • Racing thoughts and/or uncontrollable over-thinking
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Changes in their appetite
  • Feeling irritable
  • Dissociation
  • A racing heartbeat, sweating or shaking
  • A lack of energy
  • Headaches, dizziness or fainting

As an employer, you also need to be mindful that there are different types of anxiety that your people may be living with, including generalised anxiety disorder (GED), social anxiety and health anxiety. Mental Health UK also has an informative resource on the different kinds of anxiety disorders.

6 ways to support employees with anxiety

Below we have highlighted six practical ways to support your employees navigate the challenges of anxiety at work.

Create an environment where your people can talk about mental health

If mental health and anxiety are talked about by all levels of the business from directors to assistants, this can create a healthy culture where people feel they can share their feelings and struggles. It can also help to reduce the stigma around mental health.

Team meetings are great for fostering collaboration and working relationships, but always make sure your employees are able to speak to their manager on a one-to-one basis. As well as discussing work projects and performance, they are a great opportunity for managers to check in on their direct reports’ mental (and physical) health.

To further create an environment that supports your people, you could also:

  • Conduct surveys to see how your employees are feeling and what they may be going through inside and outside of work, asking what they’d like to see at work
  • Organise mental health webinars with a registered charity/organisation or local support group that discuss anxiety and other mental health problems
  • Make The Mental Health at Work Commitment to show employees that promoting wellbeing is a priority for your business

Introduce flexible working patterns

Giving your people more control over how, when and where they work can help them have a better work-life balance. In turn, this can support their mental health. Our Professional Services Salary Guide 2023 found that three quarters (74%) of employees would take a lower paid job if it provided a better work-life balance.

If someone is experiencing anxiety, flexible working could aid their recovery. It can also allow them to attend medical or counselling appointments. Ask individual employees what arrangements would support them best, as this is likely to differ from person to person. It could be:

  • Reducing the number of days they work
  • Moving their hours to different days and/or times of the day
  • Agreeing that they can work from home

Review your employee benefits

Exercise is well documented as helping to reduce stress and anxiety, and having benefits that encourage this may help your people. Staff benefits can also lessen the financial burden on employees if they feel they’re able to save money; this could be especially important during the current cost of living crisis.

Benefits that can support your people’s health and wellbeing include:  

  • Mental health counselling or an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
  • Health insurance (including mental health)
  • Free membership to mindfulness apps like Headspace or Calm
  • Discounted or free gym and/or fitness memberships and classes
  • Cycle-to-work schemes
  • Health cash plans

One study found that 35% of employees rated virtual mental health counselling as the most valuable benefit, and 34% said mental health insurance, support groups and mindfulness tools were the most beneficial.

Implement an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

As we’ve mentioned above, one way to support your people’s health and wellbeing is to introduce an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Carried out by a third-party provider, EAPs can include:

  • Short-term confidential counselling sessions
  • Expert advice and resources for anyone experiencing issues or concerns at work or home
  • Help managing finances and debt
  • Mental health workshops

Figures released by The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) show between October 2021 and October 2022 for every £1 spent on an EAP in the UK, employers saw on average a £10.85 ROI.

If you already have an EAP in place, now might be the time to remind your employees that they have access to it. You could:

  • Share it in internal communications
  • Highlight it on notices or posters in your workplace
  • Include the details on email footers, such as your HR department and leadership team

Mental health first aiders

Another way to take an additional step towards improving the wellbeing of your people is to train some of your staff to become mental health first aiders. This could be your leadership team or a cross-section of your staff to support employees of all levels within different departments.

Mental health first aiders can:

  • Act as the first point of contact for anyone within your business who is experiencing mental health issues
  • Recognise the signs that a staff member may be experiencing poor mental health and provide support
  • Signpost helpful organisations, resources and professional help
  • Become champions of your EAP, encouraging anyone who is experiencing anxiety or any type of mental ill health to make full use of the scheme

There are mental health training providers across the UK, including:

If you’d like your staff to be further informed about anxiety, charity Anxiety UK delivers workplace training. This includes stress and anxiety in the workplace for staff and managers.

If you are unsure about the signs of anxiety, find out how to recognise the signs and symptoms of anxiety here.

Check out our Wellbeing Report

Our Workplace Wellbeing Report surveyed over 1,000 employers and employees to find out what businesses are doing to support their people. We asked workers what they are looking for from their employers when it comes to health and wellness. Access a copy of our Workplace Wellbeing Report here.

Mental health is a complex topic and there is certainly not a one size fits all approach. It’s important to note that this list is not exhaustive but is a good starting point in supporting a positive approach to mental health at work. If you’re looking for further support, there are a number of networks and health professionals you can consult, such as Mental and Mind.