- Mental health awareness has helped to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health conditions, such as anxiety. As a result, now more than ever, openly seeking treatment for such conditions is accepted as the norm.
- Work and anxiety are intertwined with one another because workplace stress can precipitate anxiety, and anxiety can cause workplace stress — often creating a vicious cycle.
- Workers and employers with or without anxiety should understand anxiety and its effects on the workplace, and what that means for workplace etiquette.
Work and anxiety have a very close relationship, and this relationship impacts all workers and employers, regardless of if they experience anxiety themselves.
Work can precipitate anxiety “in previously healthy young workers,” according to the academic medical journal Psychological Medicine.
Anxiety can also lead to workplace-specific stress – mainly if one’s anxiety disorder was precipitated by a previous work environment because of the similarity of stimuli from the initial source of anxiety.
This can lead to a vicious cycle known to psychologists as workplace phobic anxiety, linked to absenteeism and higher sick leave rates.
Especially in work environments that are highly time-pressed, low-paying, and with excessive workloads, work can be and has been the initial spark that onsets an anxiety disorder in some workers. Most jobs available to healthy young workers are of this type, so the empirical finding that work can lead to anxiety should not be surprising.
It should come as no shock to anyone, therefore, that anxiety can impair worker productivity.
Stigma has lessened, but work needs to be done
What is shocking, however, is that workplace phobic anxiety is not mentioned in the Job Demands-Resources model, which is one of the most popular models used to analyze well-being in organizations. Given the description of workplace phobic anxiety – namely, as the first of its kind in being regarded as a work-specific health condition in a medical journal – it should be considered an analyzable health parameter when determining the well-being of a company.
One of the symptoms of workplace phobic anxiety is high rates of absenteeism and days of sick leave taken by workers, both due to anxiety about or related to work – though, oddly, there is no relation between it and worker quit rates.
Workplace phobia is a phobic anxiety syndrome characterized by physiological arousal when confronted with stimulus in the workplace, which can lead to a tendency toward workplace avoidance.
“Due to its specific leading symptoms (work-related panic and avoidance) and its specific impairment in work ability or even leading to sick leave, workplace phobia can be described as an illness,” according to a journal from the National Library of Medicine.
While work-centered anxiety is most common in management-level positions and other high-level jobs with excessive workloads and hours, it is still exceedingly common in the workforce at all levels.
Hence, at the very least, BioMed Research International researchers are right to solicit the Job Demands-Resources model to update its terms to accommodate workplace anxiety.
Given the decreased stigma surrounding anxiety and mental health in general in modern culture, this would be merely keeping with the times. Still, it would aid many workers with anxiety who struggle to feel more comfortable in their own skin at work.
Here’s how to navigate anxiety in the workplace
When considering a problem like anxiety, which scientists and doctors primarily study, we need to refer to expert opinion to guide us in navigating how to behave in the workplace and how management decisions should be made concerning anxiety, which all workplaces have present.
A 2012 study from Swansea University – from long before any media hype about worker flexibility, a distinctly pandemic-era phenomenon – showed that anxious workers are immensely aided by having a flexible work schedule.
The Swansea study also insists on ensuring that a specific employee’s job demands correspond with their skill set – as workers with the highest job demands (which increase in proportion to worker skill set) also have the highest likelihood of developing work phobic anxiety.
“Supervisors and occupational physicians should be aware of workplace phobic anxiety, especially when workers are often (or for long periods) on sick leave,” according to the study.
Social support from supervisors and colleagues, such as affirmations of understanding and facilitating an environment where workers feel cared for by their supervisors, is crucial in the battle against work phobic anxiety.
Unfortunately, according to BioMed Research International’s research, what can occur instead of facilitating such an environment is known to researchers as “mobbing,” in which colleagues blame and even bully anxious workers instead of showing social support or solidarity.
Thus, having an explicit policy against such “mobbing” and, instead, one that messages its antithesis is crucial for facilitating an anxiety-friendly work environment.