17 May 2023

The annual Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, is taking place between 15-21 May. Each year, awareness centres around a theme and for 2023, the spotlight is on ‘anxiety’.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling that we all experience from time to time, and sometimes these feelings can escalate to such a point, they impact our day-to-day lives.

These anxieties (such as feelings of dread, or lack of concentration for example) may stem from a number of areas, such as financial concerns, relationship difficulties or memories from previous negative experiences and may become unmanageable. When this happens, anxiety can have a significant impact on an individual’s overall wellbeing and their ability to cope with day-to-day life.

A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation focusing on financial circumstances showed that more than one-third of adults have experienced anxiety, with almost three in 10 experiencing stress as a result.

These concerning figures translate to one-third of the workforce, demonstrating why it’s essential for employers to consider the impact of anxiety on individuals, their working lives and business activity.

How can employers offer support?

Mental health is complex and, as a result, should not be approached with ‘quick fix’ solutions. If a discussion is approached with this intention, it might further negatively impact an employee’s wellbeing. Below, we list several ways to provide support as an employer, with approach and tone being key:

  • be mindful of the challenges faced by employees, especially during challenging times such as the cost-of-living crisis;
  • don’t ignore changes in behaviour such as exhaustion, being quieter than usual, acting withdrawn, making uncharacteristic errors, or an unusual level of absence;
  • discuss any concerns in a positive, supportive, sensitive and confidential way;
  • respect privacy and never force a conversation, as there may be several reasons an employee doesn’t want to share information;
  • make it clear that support is available, even if an employee changes their mind, and signpost other support;
  • dedicate time with no distractions to a meaningful discussion and practise active listening;
  • don’t let out of sight be out of mind, and check in regularly with remote workers, too;
  • support is not a one-off activity but a pattern of behaviour over a period of time, so continue with check-ins and review any changes since your previous discussions;
  • maintain an easily accessible list of organisations to signpost sources of support, such as the Mental Health Foundation, including details of an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) if one is in place;
  • consider investing in mental health first aiders and workplace mental health training for managers; and
  • if anxiety becomes debilitating in the long term, it may be considered a disability, so ensure that managers are aware of their legal obligations in addition to the usual duty of care.

For a discussion around your approach to anxiety and the general wellbeing of your teams or any concerns you have with your employees’ mental health, contact Kerri Constable.