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6 Practical HR Tools to Tackle Anxiety at Work

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Mental health has become an ongoing and trending topic in today’s workplace, with anxiety being amongst the most common mental health issues the average person experiences in their job.

Whether it is triggered by an imminent deadline, workplace disputes, or simply the overwhelm of a heavy workload, anxiety is more predominant than you may think. According to Champion Health’s ‘Workplace Health Report 2023’, a digital employee-wellbeing platform, 60% of today's employees feel anxious, while 25% meet the criteria for ‘clinically relevant symptoms’ of anxiety. 

As a result, this can affect productivity and performance in employees, so it is critical for employers and HR managers to support their teams, for a healthier and happier workforce, as well as to increase employee retention and their overall experience. 

To add, rising living costs are causing heightened levels of anxiety among employees, so fostering a company culture of openness, where employees feel comfortable to discuss how they are feeling, is vital.

In this blog, we review the 6 practical HR tools organisations should consider when tackling employee anxiety at work. 

How to Recognise Workplace Anxiety 

In order to provide struggling employees with sufficient support, HR managers must first be in the position to recognise symptoms of workplace anxiety. 

Symptoms of anxiety can present themselves in many different ways and forms, and can encompass physical, social and psychological symptoms, affecting employee productivity, sociability and mood. Some of the most common workplace anxiety symptoms to look out for include: 

  • Disengagement with work
  • Increased irritability
  • Obvious signs of fatigue and lack of energy
  • Declining work performance
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Inability concentrate or focus on their work 

Most importantly, HR professionals should look for any changes in behaviour amongst employees. For example, if an employee becomes less vocal in meetings or begins to snap at colleagues, that may be a sign that they are struggling, either with anxiety or something else. 

Here is a more comprehensive list of all the anxiety symptoms to look out for, issued by the NHS.

1) Adopt an open-door policy

One of the most essential aspects in developing a healthier work environment is by building employee trust where they feel comfortable enough to open up about their feelings and concerns. Creating a friendly and welcoming culture, and continuously re-enforcing it, will allow for open, free-flowing conversations between employees and employers to take place.

Based on TELUS Health research, presented at the ‘Employers Connect Mental Health Summit 2023’, 50% of younger workers in the UK, aged between 20 and 29 years old, perceive career limits if their workplaces knew about a mental health condition, suggesting they don’t feel comfortable enough to open up. 

Therefore, adopting an open-door policy can help employees feel reassured that there is support available at any time, and wherever needed, also improving job satisfaction. Not only that, but it is also a great technique to be used as a preventative to loss of productivity, where employees feel comfortable to openly discuss how they feel, thus avoiding time becoming overwhelmed and experiencing burnout at a later stage.

A great way to introduce this is through Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), which typically offer employees free, confidential support either through face-to-face or virtual counselling, email and phone support, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, employees must be assured about the confidentiality of these programmes and be trained on how to access this resource. 

2) Get line managers and staff trained 

When managers feel unsure about how to approach mental health, avoiding the subject completely is perhaps the worst thing to do, as it feeds into employee distrust. 

Tackling the stigma around anxiety and mental health in the workplace is very important and the best way to do that is by training managers and staff to adequately address, or at least recognise, when employees are facing mental health issues. When it comes to transcending a company’s culture, it all starts from the top. 

In-house training by mental health experts is a great way to approach this, while upskilling the HR management/department of the company can also prove beneficial in addressing these concerns. 

CIPD’s Level 5 Associate Diploma in People Management and Level 7 Advanced Diploma in Strategic People Management both offer an elective module on ‘Wellbeing at Work’ to help train HR professionals to tackle conversations around employee wellbeing and mental health appropriately. Being the largest professional body for the training of human resource professionals and the only organisation that can award a Chartered status to HR and L&D professionals, CIPD is perhaps the best option for the upskilling of HR managers.

3) Regularly checking in 

If there is one thing that has been established, it’s that communication is key when trying to help employees overcome their work-related anxiety. Once an employer or HR manager becomes aware of an issue or notices a change in an employee’s mood or productivity, the best thing to do is set some time aside for a chat with them, in a private and confidential setting, in an effort to understand what is happening and provide the necessary support. 

Together they can devise an action plan and decide the next steps forward to face the issue head on. It could also be worthwhile, at this point, to review the employee’s workload, which may be the cause of their anxiety, while there could also be added pressures originating from outside of work, such as concerns over a relative’s health, financial difficulties and more. 

Showing understanding and not making assumptions is essential at this point, recognising that work expectations may need to be adjusted in the short-term to alleviate the employee from added stress caused by a heavy workload and approaching deadlines. 

Not only that, but scheduling regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees to catch up and check-in could further foster an openness towards such conversations, while allowing managers to identify signs of distress and anxiety in their employees earlier on. 

4) Appoint people in support roles

HR managers are not expected to take on the responsibility of supporting employee mental health all on their own though.  It is a big and heavy task and it may result in them becoming stressed and overwhelmed themselves. 

Appointing mental health first aiders in the workplace, making sure employees are aware of who they are, can help resolve this concern. Along with that, adequate training must be provided to these first aides, so they can approach these issues with discretion and provide their colleagues with the correct advice and support. 

It is also worth noting that the more people in the company are encouraged to promote employee mental wellbeing, the more of a supportive culture is being established in employees minds, to feel more comfortable and open to have such conversations. 

5) Encouraging employee to take breaks 

It goes without saying that breaks during a workday are vitally important to avoid employee burnout, decrease anxiety and cater for better employee wellbeing. However, oftentimes employees feel that by skipping their breaks, they might give an impression to their employers that they are hard workers. 

This theory is also supported by the Just Eat for Business’s Digital Detox 2022 study, which found that 33% of employees have stated they tend to skip more breaks compared to the previous year. 

Therefore, employees must be encouraged to take their allocated breaks throughout the workday, foster a culture where taking the designated breaks is a necessity and not frowned upon, eliminating the false narrative that they don’t work hard enough. 

Incentivising frequent team lunch and coffee breaks, and other outdoor activities is a great way to approach this, while also making sure that line managers are encouraging staff to take their full allowance of break time, suggesting that that is the norm.

6) Implementing flexible working for improved work/life balance 

Very often, most factors that can induce stress and anxiety do not involve work whatsoever, but still find a way to trickle into it and affect productivity. Not only that but things such as family, friends, hobbies are usually the best escape from anxious situations, but work commitments tend to get in the way.

Introducing flexible working often has two particularly powerful benefits:

1) Allows employees the ability to alter their working habits around their lives and personal obligations, and
2) Proves to them that they can be trusted by their employer, and their effort and commitments to their work is not going unnoticed and unappreciated. 

Although many employees still like the option of working in an office, as they enjoy social interaction and regular contact with their colleagues and managers, giving them the option to choose when to come into the office can greatly benefit their work/life balance. 

Based on a report published by the UK Parliament regarding the impact of remote and hybrid working on workers and organisations, 47% of workers who worked from home in some capacity reported improved wellbeing, while 78% reported to have experienced improved work/life balance. 

To summarise, workplace anxiety is a very real thing and a big issue facing today’s workforce that can inevitably lead to loss of productivity, burnout and job dissatisfaction. For that reason, employers and HR managers must address the concern of anxiety in employees head on, with practical tools, to ultimately improve company culture and employee retention, which feed into a company’s overall success.


Gain the skills you need to effectively manage employees with a CIPD HR qualification with Acacia Learning.