Can you get fired for having anxiety at work? That's probably one of the questions that either you or a member of your team has had in their mind while experiencing workplace anxiety. Your heart is probably racing just thinking about this question. You're not alone. It was a question that I was wondering about in the middle of 2020 when our government imposed a series of lockdowns in our country. Not only my heart raced, but I was also out of breath due to a series of panic attacks. That's when I realized that I needed to make a major change towards reducing my workplace anxiety. Since then, I've made it my mission to help other remote professionals do the same: by having fewer meetings.
Workplace anxiety is the feeling of dread that is caused directly by work-related stressors. Work anxiety is not uncommon for professionals, especially in new or unknown situations, such as switching to remote work for the first time.
Workplace anxiety is a situation that can be inducing for many reasons, ie. when you need to give a presentation. Usually, the anxiety goes away after the situation, and your emotional state returns back to normal. However, when paralyzing anxiety becomes constant, and anxiety is interfering with work, it becomes a problem.
Do you have anxiety about going to work every day, but you're not exactly sure why? Several things can cause workplace anxiety, but an extremely high workload and a difficult boss have often been cited as the top reasons. Stress.org combined a list of anxiety in the workplace statistics from 2016 to 2019 that explains this best:
Other common causes of workplace anxiety and stress are:
Understanding the causes of workplace anxiety is crucial, so employers and employees can work together to make a change.
In 2016, 44 million people in the US reported experiencing mental illness, according to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC). However, only 57% of employees received treatment to help them manage their symptoms. What makes matters worse is that most employers don't address mental health in the workplace or want to address it, but they're not exactly sure how or where to start.
The conversation around mental health at work is starting to change due to the pandemic, as questions about mental health in the workplace have become front and center. In June 2021, the CDC revealed that "40.9% of respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral condition, such as anxiety and depression." This number is not surprising considering the unusually high amount of stress that people are experiencing due to the pandemic. On top of the day-to-day stress at work, employees experience performance anxiety at work, anxiety about getting fired, and maintaining work relationships virtually. There is also the expectation to be "always on", as work has mainly shifted to a remote environment.
The good news is that more companies are taking the necessary steps to address and improve mental illness in the workplace. The best and most popular example was when Buffer halted their entire operation for six days at the end of 2020 to give their employees time to unplug and focus on their mental health.
Additionally, companies are starting to get creative when it comes to providing well-being programs for their employees. For example, Few Co-founder Jamie North believes that programs need to be personalized. So instead of automatically giving everyone a gym pass as a benefit, their employees can choose other services that suit them best, such as Headspace or a Netflix subscription. (Not a lot of people feel safe going to the gym anyway.)
Unilever is another great example of a large corporation providing its employees a variety of mental health support, including a wellbeing app that allows employees to perform a work anxiety test and receive urgent assistance if they require.
Fortunately, you don't need to build an app to help improve employees' mental health. Here are a few ways to get started:
The best and easiest way to start the conversation around mental health is during 1-1 meetings. If you haven't done 1-1s regularly, it's time to plot it in your calendar. You can use a 1-1 meeting template to save time without missing crucial discussion points.
A simple question, such as, "How are you feeling with your overall performance?" can be a good way to start the conversation about their mental wellbeing. If employees are uncomfortable sharing their feelings in a Zoom call, provide them various options, such as anonymous surveys and asynchronous discussions.
Feelings of anxiety around Zoom meetings can be significantly reduced by adopting an asynchronous remote work culture. Zoom shouldn't be the default form of communication. By trusting your team to communicate effectively using asynchronous tools, you'll have a productive and less anxious team. For example, instead of having daily standups, you can use async tools to record daily check-ins and share your daily tasks asynchronously.
Most employees, especially productive and engaged employees, only go on sick leaves when they are physically sick. They often feel guilty and find "feeling depressed" might not be a legitimate reason to take a break.
As a remote professional for 11 years, I've learned to take a mental health day. Previously, I only filed for a sick leave when I'm physically incapable of working. But after experiencing major burnout and bouts of anxiety attacks, I've learned to prioritize my mental health. As a remote leader, it's crucial to set an example and create a culture where employees feel safe to take a mental health day. Using tools like Spock allows teams to file sick leaves with just a few clicks.
There is a lot of unrest nowadays as employers figure out the future of their work setup, and having a work environment that makes people feel safe, fulfilled, and productive won't happen overnight. But it is critical to make small changes right away instead of putting them off until all the conditions are perfect. Something simple, such as reducing the number of meetings for everyone in the company is a game-changer.
Nowadays, I'm feeling much better and healthier mentally because I've managed to reduce my Zoom meetings significantly. Of course, it won't be the same result for everyone because every circumstance is different, but it won't hurt to try. The key is to prioritize your mental health and reduce workplace anxiety by building successful habits and creating a positive and supportive remote work culture.
Do you have questions about workplace anxiety? Share this article on social media and tag @Where-team, so we can create more awareness about mental illness in the workplace.