Many employers of late have looked into the causes of stress at work in order to see if there are ways for them to have higher-effectiveness, lower-anxiety teams. Nobody wants to discover that their employees are miserable and counting down the minutes until they can find a less-stressful job.
Understanding stress, however, means also understanding the effects of anxiety long-term. After all, stressors in our lives can have both positive effects of getting us moving and working, and toxic effects, if we're stuck in a stressed state for a long time. The anxieties we experience at work can bleed over into our personal lives if the stressful situations aren't swiftly resolved, making work-life balance hard to manage.
Whether you specifically want to improve jobs for people with anxiety in your workplace, or want to look to the future and make sure your employees aren't building up toxic anxieties at work, here are some ways to lower your employees' workplace anxieties. Not every solution fits for every person, but creating a better environment with less uncertainty, worry, and intensity can be helpful to both those with a diagnosed anxiety disorder and other, more day-to-day levels of worry.
Acknowledge and Validate the Symptoms and Results of Anxiety
One of the hardest things when experiencing anxiety can be the feeling that no one else understands or that everyone else is coping with absolutely no problems. This adds to the weight of already difficult situations, but acknowledging and validating symptoms and results of anxiety can be incredibly helpful to getting the best work from your employees.
Acknowledging, or mentioning overtly what's going on, and validating, saying that this is a normal, fairly common response to workplace stressors, can go a long way to starting a conversation about solutions. Often, there is one element of a project or effort that is causing the anxiety, and working through it may make it possible to proceed with the work. Sweeping anxieties under the rug, however, leaves anxious employees to suffer in silence and not resolve their worries.
To accomplish this effort, you'll want to work with your management in order to create a culture of speaking about anxiety without judgment or frustration. By making it possible to discuss anxiety, you can help some employees find the language they need to move forward on their work.
Set Realistic Benchmarks That Can Be Negotiated
A major source of workplace anxiety is unreasonable expectations. Many managers don't actually know that what they are asking cannot be accomplished, and if anxious employees don't tell them, they just stay stressed. Create a structure in your company that relies on past data, industry benchmarks, and personalized understanding of your employees to set benchmarks for employee output.
Make it clear in meetings with employees that, if something isn't working well, benchmarks can be negotiated. This doesn't mean accepting low productivity, but instead means acknowledging that sometimes, our expectations for what is possible can be skewed and need to be discussed. If an employee consistently lowers their benchmarks, that is still valuable information: it may be time to pair them up with a higher performer to learn some new techniques.
Create a Culture of Collaboration With No Bullying
Competitive workplaces may foster certain high-power personality types but winner-take-all management styles can be causes of stress at work. By emphasizing what the company will achieve together and making bullying an absolute no-go for your workplace, you start the process of reducing the effects of anxiety on your team. If you start this process, be prepared to follow up, really rewarding good collaborators and really imposing consequences on individuals who participate in bullying.
Offer Flexibility and 4-Day Workweeks
Much of our workplace anxiety comes from conflicts between what we want and need in our private lives and what work asks of us. If your employees have caregiving responsibilities, are furthering their education, or want to pursue other interests, creating flexibility in the workday and having workers only work four days a week can be truly liberating. Knowing that work doesn't have to conflict with home life can be a source of major relief, and many employees feel strongly about staying "loyal" to companies that offer them this stress-reducing flexibility or extra day off per week.
Encourage Breaks and Other Ergonomic Choices
Most people don't naturally work, seated, for eight hours straight. Whether your team is working from home or in an office setting, encourage breaks to walk around, drink water, get meals, and even just think away from a screen. Good posture, getting some stretches in, and a change of scenery all actually help people to do their best work, so you get a big benefit for the few minutes of breaks that your team takes. Walking away from a stressful work project for a few minutes may allow an employee to return to the issue with new resolve and less strain.
Create Policies to Protect "Off Time" Whenever Possible
Some companies will always need on-call workers, but evaluate very carefully whether your company is one of them. A huge source of workplace worry and stress is the feeling that, at any moment, one's boss could call with a question or concern, or the fear that a midnight email will immediately impact an employee's ability to sleep.
If you can make clear policies about how to communicate with employees after hours, you will give them breathing room that truly helps them recharge. For instance, by saying that no employee is expected to check email between 5pm on one day and 9am the next, you alleviate worry that they need to be checking it religiously. Creating a single form of emergency contact, such as a phone call or text message, can be helpful for jobs that do need an emergency-option for contacting each other, rather than expecting off-duty employees to monitor a beeper and some email and instant messaging software on the off chance that they'll get a request that way. Just a little organization and clarity can help employees know they are doing what they need to do for the job without forcing them into needless always-on stress.