As a supervisor, manager, or business owner, your company’s success depends on your ability to encourage your workers to do their best. Increasingly, that includes addressing mental health challenges that arise during the workday, including anxiety at work.
Younger Workers Face Increased Anxiety at Work
Stress can be detrimental to any worker’s productivity, and their health. Clinical anxiety takes that stress to another level. On top of the very real personal harm anxiety causes to the person suffering from it, the symptoms of anxiety can negatively affect your business’s productivity and can cause interpersonal problems between employees.
Statistically, younger workers are more likely to face anxiety than their older counterparts. While 18% of adults experience an anxiety disorder each year, 25% of teenage employees and interns face similar diagnoses. Almost 23% of young adults ages 18 – 29, have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable with therapy and (in some cases) medication. That means there is a significant chance that your younger workers are suffering from anxiety, and you may not even know it.
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Business Owners and Managers Take on a Parental Role for New Workers
One of the challenges of dealing with anxiety disorders is that many suffer the condition silently. This is because telling others may trigger the anxiety itself. Worry about disappointing superiors or fear of employment consequences may keep an employee from requesting appropriate accommodations to better manage their workplace anxiety.
As a business owner or manager, you may be the last to know about your employees’ mental health concerns. State and federal health privacy laws say your employees are not required to tell you about their diagnoses or treatments. As a company decisionmaker, any performance-based anxiety may center around keeping you satisfied and impressed with their work.
As a new employee’s superior or mentor, you may also take on the role of office-mom or office-dad on a less-than-conscious level. This frequently goes both ways; employees usually see their employer as a parent. Often, quasi-parental relationships develop between managers and younger employees who are just learning how to navigate life These relationships go both ways: younger employees look up to their older counterparts and seek to impress them. At the same time business owners and leaders may try to “take younger workers under their wing” and teach them how to be a successful. This is often considered part of an employer’s fiduciary duty to their employees – to help them develop into their best professional selves.
When anxiety disorders enter the mix, this quasi-parental role can create interpersonal problems. In addition to the secrecy described above, younger workers may end up expressing their anxiety toward their managers in inappropriate ways, including acting in anger. This may hurt your working relationship and can increase the chances of matters escalating unnecessarily.
How You Can Help Younger Employees Deal with Anxiety at Work
However, there are many things employers can do to help younger employees deal with anxiety at work, even without knowing about an anxiety disorder. Mentors and managers can take their lead from teachers helping students with anxiety. You can:
- Build trust through casual, no-consequence conversations with employees showing anxiety symptoms
- Share personal vulnerabilities to remove pressure to be perfect
- Establish clear structures and expectations that remove worry and uncertainty
- Promptly address workplace bullying, discrimination, or harassment complaints
- Proactively lower stress by avoiding overscheduling, understaffing, or prolonged “push” events
- Avoid making it seem an employee’s future hinges on a specific project or goal
- Give employees autonomy over details in how their work gets done
- Emphasize personal and professional development making space for continued training
- Avoid modeling anxious behaviors
- Allow accommodations for therapy appointments or treatments
- Provide company-wide trainings on coping mechanisms and stress-management techniques
- Ensure company health insurance covers mental health treatment
- Avoid questioning the need for personal time off
As an employer, you may feel it is your duty to help the younger workers at your company grow into successful professionals. That includes taking care of their mental health. Whether through company policy or one-on-one conversations, you can foster a welcoming company culture that reduces stress and helps younger employees deal with anxiety at work.
David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience helping business owners develop management skills to better support their employees. Through one-on-one executive coaching, David helps CEOs and executives guide younger workers toward healthy professional lives. Contact us to meet with David and develop a plan to help your employees deal with anxiety today.