Dealing with mental health issues in your personal life is difficult, but when it comes to dealing with anxiety in the workplace, many find it a challenging path to navigate.
“Anxiety is so many different things. It affects people in so many different ways,” said Mary Ann Baynton, Program Director for the Great West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.
“For many, anxiety is worry that causes people to do more,” she explained. “In the workplace, somebody that’s anxious may end up doing more work because they’re always feeling not good enough, that their job is not safe, that they need to do more. So in the workplace, anxiety can manifest in many different ways.”
According to an Abacus Data survey commissioned by Yahoo Canada, 54 per cent of Canadians say they would not change the way they interacted with a co-worker if they found out they had an anxiety disorder.
But that begs the question — should you treat someone with anxiety differently?
“The answer to that is yes and no,” Baynton said. “My belief is that we should never treat anyone differently. We need to, in the workplace, ask people what they need. The question isn’t ‘tell me all your preferences’ – the question is ‘what is it you need to do a good job and to be able to go home at the end of the day with some energy left over.'”
Of the 54 per cent of people who said an anxiety disorder would not change the way they interacted with a coworker, the age cohort of 60+ was the most likely to pick that option.
Although she can’t say for certain why the numbers show this, Banyton hypothesised it might be due to how the older generation grew up.
“My experience is that we have peeled back a lot of the layers around stigma and that the younger people are much more inclusive and understanding that it’s part of life,” she explained. “The older people might see treating someone differently as discrimination because we have heard a lot about how you don’t treat someone differently.”
If you are someone that’s struggling with anxiety or any condition, Baynton recommends that you address it with your manager in a direct way.
“I would say, ‘I really want to be great employee and there’s a few things that would really help me to do my job better, and here’s what they are. This is how I will manage and contribute to success at work,'” Baynton suggests.
To broach it with your co-workers, it takes a certain amount of trust. Here’s the language Baynton recommends using if you want someone to discuss your anxiety if they see you struggling:
“Say to them ‘Here’s how I’d like you to bring that to my attention because it’s not my intention to ever be a burden or a stressor for someone else, but this is something that may happen and I’d like you to say to me ‘are you dealing wit a lot right now.'”
As for managers trying to accommodate workers with anxiety, Baynton says being open is the way to facilitate communication.
“I think one of the most important things a manager can do is share their own vulnerability, their own challenges throughout their career, and the people who helped them,” she recommends. “The old approach of ‘never letting them see you sweat’ makes people fearful.”
And if you’re a manager who doesn’t necessarily find it easy to communicate this way, there is hope to be had.
“There are managers who just don’t have the level of emotional intelligence or communication skills to have a conversation and the beauty is, that can be learned,” said Baynton. “There are a lot of resources to help a leader who says ‘this isn’t my natural talent, but I see more and more in the workplace this is required.'”
“People see the evidence that the way to support an employee to maximize their productivity and energy at work is to support people to be their best selves,” said Baynton. “That means if you have anxiety, it’s how can we not make this anxiety something that’s disabling – how can we support you as you are to do your best job.”
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