Wellness and performance go hand in hand, so it makes sense that employee well-being has become an increasingly important part of regular performance discussions. Your employees need the support of their managers if they are to perform at their best, and this is especially true for any employees who may be dealing with mental health challenges like anxiety or depression.

Your employees need to know they can come to you for encouragement and understanding without fear of losing their jobs or forgoing a promotion. With this in mind, it’s important we discuss the issue of anxiety, a disorder that can seriously affect performance, quality of work, and employee motivation.

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety comes in a number of guises. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the five major forms of anxiety are:

  1. Panic disorder
  2. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  4. Social anxiety disorder
  5. Generalized anxiety disorder

Someone with anxiety might always feel on edge, have difficulty concentrating, or worry excessively. They might also be irritable and indecisive, and they may experience tension headaches and a general sense of fear. All of this can impact employee performance, so if someone on your team is suffering from a form of anxiety, you should put measures in place to encourage, support, and motivate them healthily and sustainably.

Before we cover how to motivate employees with anxiety, we first need to address a common misconception: that anxiety and stress are essentially the same.

Nearly everyone experiences workplace stress, particularly when deadlines loom or a company is facing difficulties. However, not every employee experiences anxiety.

People with anxiety can feel a loss of control over their lives and their work. As a result, they might avoid taking on extra responsibilities or tasks. Employers need to remember that anxiety is a disability, and they should make reasonable adjustments to accommodate people with anxiety. Employees should feel like you are on their side. If they do, they’ll be more willing to work with you to reach optimal performance.

How to Support Employees With Anxiety

1. Let Employees Know You’re Open to Discussion

Everyone experiences anxiety differently. No two employees will have the same anxiety trigger, nor will they express their anxiety in the same way. Managers should be aware of this.

To motivate and engage employees with anxiety, you must first begin an honest dialogue. However, you have to let employees take the initiative and bring their challenges to you. Don’t pry; instead, let your employees know you take mental wellness seriously and encourage them to discuss such issues with you.

If your employees are comfortable and open to it, discuss how you can adapt your workplace processes to support them best. What symptoms do they suffer from? How severe is their anxiety? Do certain situations make them particularly uncomfortable? Once you have a better understanding, you will be able to put measures in place to alleviate the likelihood of your employees feeling anxious at work.

Once you get everything out in the open and your employees realize you are on their side, they can let go of some of the pressure weighing on them. In turn, this will help them feel more confident talking to you about how you can collaboratively create a motivating workplace environment.

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2. Be Flexible

As most managers are aware, flexibility is key to optimal performance. Flexibility is all the more important for individuals with anxiety. Sometimes, just knowing the possibility of working flexibly exists can reduce an employee’s anxiety.

For people with anxiety, some days are worse than others. As a result, they might need additional time for certain assignments. They might need to work away from their colleagues or in environments with particular conditions so they can relax and be motivated to perform. Making small adjustments here and there, such as offering telecommuting or flextime options, can do a world of good.

Furthermore, employees will likely feel an increased sense of loyalty to your business if you take active steps to support their well-being. These feelings of loyalty will result in better retention and improved performance in the long run.

3. Keep Communication Frequent and Transparent

Once you have established a healthy dialogue with an employee, you must maintain regular contact. A one-off discussion once or twice a year isn’t good enough. Communication, like flexibility, is a key factor in employee motivation.

Meet with your employee every month. Ask them how they are coping with their workload and give them positive feedback. Discuss recent achievements and efforts. Show them you recognize and appreciate the work they are doing.

Above all, stay connected with all of your employees. Implement an open-door policy if you haven’t already. Anxiety can be isolating, so employees will really appreciate having the ability to come to you whenever they need to discuss their progress, struggles, and development aims.

4. Keep Anxiety in Mind When Creating SMART Objectives

Anxiety can cause people to feel overwhelmed, which can grind progress to a standstill. It can be hard to take a single step when confronting a task that feels insurmountable.

So, rather than assigning massive long-term goals, it’s worth working with employees to design smaller, short-term SMART objectives. These objectives will keep employees motivated and focused while still feeling manageable. This doesn’t mean your company needs to compromise on the amount of work done. Rather, you merely take a larger goal and segment it into smaller, less intimidating tasks.

5. Be Understanding About Mental Health Breaks

Employees are human beings, not robots. They need occasional breaks. This doesn’t just mean holidays; it also means taking 10 minutes here and there to reset and refocus. Allow your employees to stretch their legs, close their eyes, and recuperate from mounting stress. Opportunities like these are especially important for sufferers of anxiety.

If an employee feels the need to step away for a breath of fresh air, be understanding and accommodating. It’s unlikely they will take advantage of your generosity, and they will come back to work more refreshed and motivated to perform. If you expect your employees with anxiety to work at a constant rate all day long, you shouldn’t be surprised when they burn out.

It’s important to remember that not all disabilities are visible. Individuals with anxiety want to give work their all. It is your responsibility as a manager to give them the tools and support they need to do so.

Stuart Hearn is founder and CEO of Clear Review.

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