Employee Wellbeing: Anxiety at work on increase

Recent ONS personal well-being figures (Jan-Dec 2016) have revealed that anxiety levels have increased across the UK, keeping more than 51% of workers awake at night and with 3 in 10 saying they are more stressed now than ever in their career.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization estimates that one in four people will be affected by a mental health problem at some point in their lives. At any one time in the UK, NHS data shows that one in six people will be experiencing a common mental health problem like depression or anxiety

With many businesses being keen to be seen as a great place to work, there has never been a more important time to take a look at how you can help open up a conversation about mental health.

The stats show that

  • Work stress is keeping more than half (51%) of workers awake at night
  • Three in 10 (29%) say they are currently the most stressed they’ve ever been in their career
  • 73 per cent of workers say they feel like they are ‘on call’ all the time, with half accessing their emails remotely
  • A third (33%) say the amount of work pressure they feel is unsustainable
  • 28 per cent say their productivity is regularly hindered by their wellbeing
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) believe employers should be doing more to support staff who are struggling with physical or mental health

Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK, thinks that there is real importance in supporting employees wellbeing in the workplace – having happy, healthy staff is key to a healthy business.

“It’s disappointing to see that anxiety levels in the UK have increased. With one in four people suffering from an anxiety disorder at some point in their life, it’s important we continue to address the stigma that comes with mental health issues by creating an open culture where people feel comfortable seeking help. This can help get people back on the road to recovery more quickly and drastically improve their wellbeing.”

However, many businesses are concerned at advising in this area. Employees don’t want to be labelled in any way that sits on a personnel file, and at the same time, this fear can perpetuate anxiety.  Pablo feels that this is one area where employers should be providing employees with information and helping them to ‘self care’.  An open door, non judgemental policy may be the best one to have. But when do employers need to recognise anxiety as a serious issue and what are the next steps if this is happening? How do you avoid wading in and making it worse?

Bupa’s standpoint on anxiety is to take all cases seriously, as early identification can lead to faster recovery and to visit a GP if you are suffering from the following symptoms:

  • – Do you feel worried all the time?
  • – Do you often feel nervous, apprehensive or on edge?
  • – Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • – Do you find it hard to relax and switch off?
  • – Do you often get ‘butterflies’ in your stomach, tense muscles, feel dizzy or find it hard to breathe?

Global Chief Medical Officer, Dr Paul Zollinger at BUPA suggests that employers can  look at for warning signs.

“Some common early signs of depression and anxiety are poor concentration, low mood, tearfulness, tiredness and lack of energy, talking less and avoiding social activities, drinking more alcohol and irritability and short temper.

If you notice any of these signs in your colleagues, check in with them. It’s sometimes easier if you start the conversation. Use the power of “how are you?” A simple but profound question if given the space it deserves.

Remember everyone is different. Talk to your colleagues about how they are feeling. You don’t need to make a diagnosis – the most important thing you can do is to get people to talk about how they are feeling and any changes they have noticed in their lives. The better you know each other, the easier it will be to offer the right support at the right time.”

In terms of next steps, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may be appropriate for more severe cases of anxiety, while milder forms may benefit from self-help tactics in the first instance.
Below are some tips  on how to try to mitigate anxiety, which could be passed on to staff in the workplace. Perhaps a newsletter. a blog or something else could help start a great conversation about mental health.
  • Try to strike a balance between meeting your responsibilities and taking time to relax so you can reduce your stress levels
  • Record your thoughts. If you’re spending your days worrying about things, write these down to recognise what’s making you anxious. Phone apps such as MindShift can help you record them while you’re on the move. Once you have a record you can refer to, these worries might not seem so bad, or you can figure out ways to tackle them.
  • Have a break. Anxiety can be all-consuming so it’s vital to give yourself a break and take some time each day to relax. This might be a challenge at first but there are plenty of self-help books and online resources that can teach you how. Even going for a walk will help to relax you if you pick a good route.

    Don’t bury your head in the sand. If you avoid situations or scenarios that make you anxious, you won’t ever overcome them.

  • Take time to reflect on what you’ve achieved, rather than worrying about what you still need to do
  • Be kind to yourself. It’s important to acknowledge that everybody’s different
  • Try not to judge yourself against impossible standards; be realistic about things
  • Try to focus on the things you’re good at, rather than those things you don’t excel in
  • Try to eat well, keep active, watch your drinking, and get enough sleep. It might sound obvious but these can all have a profound effect on your mental health


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