Anxiety in the Workplace

Heather Skillman
Heather Skillman, ACC

Table of Contents

Workplace anxiety is a real thing and can affect a person’s mental focus, satisfaction, motivation, and ability to carry out their work duties. Understanding what it is, recognizing when it shows up, and knowing how to offer support can help equip you to manage workplace anxiety.

Watch the world’s largest HR encyclopedia be built in real-time

Subscribe to get a weekly roundup email of all our new entries

What is Anxiety in the Workplace?

The Webster dictionary defines anxiety as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”

This anxious feeling typically comes when people start to think of a future outcome that is “uncertain” and creates a sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread.

Some examples could be concern about losing one’s job, experiencing a change in the environment (moving to a new location, coming back to the workplace after working from home), adjusting to a new manager, doing a new project, preparing for and having performance review meetings, etc.

Common fears that produce anxiety can include public speaking, not meeting a deadline, expecting the work you do won’t be good enough (also known as perfectionism), and not qualifying for a promotion or project you want to work on.

This article should not be used to diagnose or treat an anxiety disorder which can occur when your anxiety or fear becomes disproportionate to the situation and reduces your ability to function normally. This article is designed to support employees who are having difficulty at work and may be at risk of experiencing workplace anxiety.

The Negative Effects of Anxiety in the Workplace

When someone is experiencing anxiety in the workplace it can negatively affect how they show up at work and also the work that they produce. Anxiety can manifest both physically and mentally. Here are a few symptoms that can indicate anxiety may be present at work.

  • Physical symptoms: issues with sleeping, nausea, poor memory, excessive fatigue and headaches.
  • Mental symptoms: Loss of confidence, disappointment with yourself even when you haven’t made mistakes, increased self-criticism, and becoming socially withdrawn.

Signs of Anxiety in the Workplace

It can be difficult to identify workplace anxiety but here are some signs that signify workplace anxiety may be present:

Excessive Absenteeism

Many people experiencing workplace anxiety struggle to have the energy to work. Therefore they may call in sick more often than usual.

Losing Interest in Work

Often with anxiety come feelings of overwhelm. When one is feeling overwhelmed, what used to drive engagement and joy can feel like a burden.

Trouble Sleeping

When the mind is playing scenario after scenario of fearful outcomes, it can be difficult to turn off and can affect sleeping patterns.

Trouble Concentrating or Remembering Things

The anxious brain spends energy focusing on solving problems or keeping you in fight or flight mode, so it can pull focus away and cause forgetfulness and inability to concentrate.

Pressure for Perfectionism

Perfectionism can be placing pressure on yourself to make no mistakes. This can cause worry and fear about failing.

Factors That Contribute to Anxiety in the Workplace

Some situations like a challenging routine, tight schedule, close deadlines, or pressure from a manager or coworker can cause anxiety. Here are a few others to be aware of:

Rumors

Often there’s no way to know if workplace rumors are actual facts, but when people speak of them as being true, anxiety can take over.

Future Change

When covid hit, many employees began to work from home. Now there is talk of bringing people back or working a hybrid approach, and this can cause anxiety adjusting to a new change in environment and your workflow.

New Leadership

Anytime new leaders come on board, employees may wonder if they will implement changes and cut jobs. When an employee’s manager changes, the employee does not know what to expect and may worry about adjusting to a new manager style.

Tips for Coping With Anxiety in the Workplace

Managing the stress that comes from anxiety doesn’t have to become a big to do list. Noticing when you may be feeling anxious is a good first step to figuring out what to do. Choosing to make small positive adjustments can impact your stress levels over time, and can help increase resilience when anxiety reoccurs. Here are a few tips that may help.

Write Down When You Feel Anxious

Is it in the morning before work, at night before going to bed, or during the day? What part of the work are you worried about? Is it a project? A manager? Dealing with a coworker. Writing down these questions can help to notice patterns and create a plan for how to deal with it.

For example, if your anxiety hits at night and you are worried about the next day, write down what you are worried about. Writing it down can keep it from running through your mind all night keeping you awake.

Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep can be difficult when the mind won’t shut off from anxious thoughts. But if you set up a sleeping schedule and stick to it, that can help. For instance, you can make sure you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

Come Up with a Nightly Ritual

These are things you can do to help calm yourself before going to bed. Having two to three nightly rituals you consistently and consecutively do every night before going to bed triggers the brain and body to wind down and prepare for sleep. Some ideas can be turning off the TV, brushing your teeth, reading a book, showering, journaling, taking a walk, or putting on specific sleep-time music.

Organize Your Desk

Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed, we forget things or misplace items we need to do our job. Taking some time to clean up the desk can help focus the mind and completing a task can help us feel some accomplishment for the day.

Avoid Gossip and Rumors

Avoiding gossip and rumors can be tough because talking with co-workers helps you feel connected. But if you’re having a conversation and feel anxiety forming, you may need to step away from the conversation or try to change the subject. If you feel comfortable, share that you are feeling uncomfortable talking about such and such and ask to change the subject.

Break Up Projects and Prioritize

When working on a large project, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and anxious. Breaking down the project into smaller tasks can help you feel more in control and that you are on track for finishing the project. Prioritizing when each task should be done can help you focus and plan your day, eliminating the fear of when and how this project will get done.

Find the “Off” Button

What things or tasks are causing anxiety? When you see they are taking over your time, make a conscious effort to spend a specific amount of time not doing them. For example, your “off time” can be from 8:00pm to 7:00am with no looking at your work phone or email, spending time on social media, watching or reading the news or responding to texts right away.

Take a True Lunch Break

When you’re on a lunch break, make it a habit to not eat at your desk to refrain from checking emails and doing other work activities while eating. Go sit somewhere else and focus on simply eating or talking with friends or coworkers about non-work-related topics.

Exercise

Any kind of movement can help eliminate stress. This doesn’t have to be a strenuous activity. Even a 10-minute walk can have benefits.

Conclusion

Anxiety in the workplace or around work activities is not a fun thing to experience. Having some techniques to recognize when you are feeling it and knowing how to cope with it can help you regain control over the situation. You can lessen your anxiety, feel more confident and get back on track as the talented individual you know you are and can be!

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Anxiety in the Workplace

If an employee can’t work because of anxiety, it’s important to seek professional help. Ask your HR department if the company provides employee assistance programs and check if your medical coverage includes mental health benefits. FMLA (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla?msclkid=7568c702c3fb11ecbda34c6bcd9ce3ee)can give the option of taking time away from work if your anxiety has become too much to manage.
Heather Skillman
Heather Skillman, ACC

Heather Skillman is the founder and principal owner of The Skillman Enterprise which includes an HR consulting division called SkillmanHR4U. Heather is a senior-level Human Resources professional with 20 years of experience, providing strategic and tactical direction for the Human Resources function. Heather excels in three key areas; Communication, Research, and Engagement. Heather offers a proven track record of helping leaders be successful in their roles by advising on employee issues, employee development, succession planning, and hiring and retaining talent as well as training on managing legal compliance.

Heather began her Human Resources career working as a recruiter for two agencies. She moved into a generalist role working for a design manufacturing and engineering company specializing in medical devices. She focused on recruiting top talent, training leaders and employees on FDA, ISO and WA state law compliance. She moved into a high Tech start up as a Senior Recruiter, Healthcare as a Sr Generalist and then into Aerospace as a SR HR Business partner. She excelled at training new managers, employee engagement, career planning, succession planning, hiring and interviewing techniques, salary placement, promotion processes, complex investigations, and in helping managers avoid union grievances. In addition to her Human Resources leadership role in various industries, Heather has a unique combination of strategic Operations and Human Resources experience and works particularly well with engineers and in manufacturing environments. She spent 20 years working in Human Resources in both union and non-union environments with experience in a variety of industries.

Heather has expertise in all functional areas of Human Resources. She has an outstanding track record for developing solid and trusting relationships with leaders helping them be successful and effective in aligning their employees team performance with company objectives. The Skillman Enterprise and SkillmanHR4U Consulting serves the day to day HR support in the WA sate area for small business owners as well as virtual strategic engagement and coaching for mid size companies across the United states. Heathers goal is to help make workplaces engaging so employees leave work feeling less stressed and energized to focus on the good things in their personal life.

Want to contribute to our HR Encyclopedia?

Other Related Terms

Posts You Might Like

What is People Management Software?

What is People Management Software?

People management software sounds important, but what exactly does that mean? Does your business need it? What businesses benefit most? All these questions and more are answered as we dive into the fascinating world of people management software and determine what’s best for your company.

Read More »
The Ultimate Guide on How to Manage Employees in a Small Business

The Ultimate Guide on How to Manage Employees in a Small Business

When it comes to running a small business, we know that managing employees is often one of the most difficult tasks. People are complicated, and finding a way to keep your employees happy and productive can be challenging. This article shares specific advice for what you can do in the three phases of the employee lifecycle to get the most out of each employee.

Read More »

Want to join our network of contributing HR professionals?

Scroll to Top

Submit a Question