Helping employees cope with work-related anxiety

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The coronavirus pandemic is upending work routines and sparking anxiety and uncertainty among workers across every sector. Mental health is being battered.

Monster’s new Future of Work 2021 Outlook shows that globally, feelings of  job-related anxiety are overwhelming employees, followed by headaches, depression and loneliness.

Our data reveals that anxiety affects 33% of Canadian workers, and depression and headaches are wreaking havoc in the lives of approximately 15% of the workforce.

On the global stage, anxiety is highest among workers in Italy at 41%, while feelings of depression are highest in the UK and Sweden, at 19% and 18% respectively.

Monster data also shows that women experience higher rates of work-related anxiety and headaches than men, except in Germany and the Netherlands. Men are more likely to drink more or report feeling no anxiety or headaches.

Ongoing worry taking its toll

These unprecedented times are uncertainty and unpredictability, initiating mental health difficulties in struggling workers and triggering those who are already vulnerable.

“The ongoing worry and concern over the health and safety of self and love ones, social isolation, financial pressures, and the uncertainty of the future is taking its toll,” said Beverly Beuermann-King, workplace mental health and resiliency expert at

Add to that additional work pressures of working from home in a setting that wasn’t designed for convenience or ergonomics, where’s there’s no work/life balance, and often in work settings that restrict team interaction and collaboration, Beuermann-King said.

“Employees who are working in situations of high demand/low control and/or high effort/low reward are two to three times at risk for mental health issues,” she reported.

Strike a healthy balance with employees

For employers to thrive in a pandemic, they need a healthy workforce that is mentally fit and engaged, and in a safe workplace. “One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the openness and increase in workplace mental health conversations and training,” and the focus needs to continue.

Employers should be concerned but not go overboard, advised Dr. David Dozois, a psychology professor at Western University, who helped design a survey earlier in the pandemic about rising rates of anxiety and depression in Canada. It is understandable to worry about your employees and their well-being, but try to strike a balance between being too concerned and not concerned enough.

Check in on their mental health

“Employers need to support employees in more certain times and in unprecedented times. Fortunately, many of the skills that employers and managers already have can be used to help their employees,” Dozois said. Checking in with your employees without being intrusive can be a good place to start.
Beuermann-King recommended increasing your communication and checking in on the mental health of your team. Find out how are they coping? What are they doing to cope? What are they doing when they are feeling worn out or at their limit? Be sure workers know of company resources that are available to them.

Increase mental health initiatives

Many workplaces have employee assistance programs, and are supporting workers through benefits. Dozois said Starbucks Canada boosted mental health benefits in 2016 for its employees to $5,000 per year. “Manulife has since pledged $10,000 per year. This kind of support is really needed to increase access to mental health care.”

Some companies are helping working families by offering flexibility in terms of modified work loads and child care, including Monster. The “One Monster, One Family” program includes new initiatives such as two paid self-care days for all employees to be used before March 2021; one additional paid day per year for family time; a premium membership to (so employees can find a nanny, a sitter, an elderly care nurse, or a tutor); and a laptop lending program for school kids.

Train company leaders to be responsive

 Bring training to your leadership on how to have a supportive mental health conversation, including what signs to be aware of, how to open up the conversation, and how to listen to what is being said and not said, Beuermann-King recommended. “I also feel that leaders need to be the beacon of hope for their teams—training must include how to be that beacon.”

Help employees build resilience

Bring awareness training to your teams on how to build resilience. By helping employees pinpoint energy drainers and energy boosters, and equipping them with the right tools and a proactive plan to cope, everyone benefits, she said. “It can’t be just about thinking good thoughts or doing yoga to relax—it has to be more comprehensive than that.”

Look for effective, virtual training for teams that is interactive, collaborative, and engaging. On-line training can be just as effective as on-site training, she said. “Now is the time for training and skill building. Don’t wait until the pandemic is over to focus on these skills,” she added.

Involve workers in decision making

People feel better and experience less anxiety when they have a sense of control and predictability, Dozois said. To the extent that you can, try to involve your employees in decision making. When you are communicating with employees, try to ensure that your messaging is consistent and clear.

Lead by example

Let your team know what you, in particular, are doing to keep a healthy work-life balance, and lead by modeling healthy behaviours., Dozois suggested. Think about connecting socially with your employees with virtual get-togethers.

Consider having some discussions regarding the importance of good sleep hygiene, diet, exercise, evidence-based thinking, goal setting, setting boundaries and making clear demarcations between work and home life, especially for those working from home.

Fuel performance with healthy habits

Keep physically active and mentally healthy. “You are more likely to be an effective leader if you take care of yourself too. Not only will this serve as good modeling, it will also enhance your own performance,” he said.

Make time to keep active behaviorally—schedule a few pleasure- and mastery-oriented activities each day. “Doing so is anti-depressant and can also enhance your well-being. Keep connected socially.”

Try to think based on facts, not emotions. It is so easy to get into emotional reasoning, especially when there is heightened anxiety because of the pandemic. Try to think with evidence. Finally, change what you can change and try to accept what you can’t control.

Prepare for the echo pandemic

Even when the pandemic is over, the mental health impact is predicted to last for another two years. “This echo pandemic will continue to ripple,” said Beuermann-King, so employers need to focus on creating a psychologically safe and healthy workplace now.

“Become more like a train roaring down the tracks. If you are on the train and effectively addressing mental health in your workplace then you are able to keep moving forward and rising to the challenges,” she said.

“If you are ignoring the mental health needs of your teams, it is like standing on the tracks looking at the oncoming train. You are either going to get left behind or run over!”