How to Support Your Employees with Anxiety this Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 (Guest Post)
This guest post on Mental Health Awareness Week 2023’s theme of anxiety was written by one of our specialist speakers, Katherine Baldwin. Katherine is available to hire for your corporate events and wellbeing workshops.
What if my work isn’t good enough?
What if I make a mistake?
What if my boss tells me off?
What if I’m fired?
These persistent questions plagued me throughout my journalism career, although nobody had any idea. On the outside, I was a confident political correspondent for Reuters who travelled the world with Prime Ministers. On the inside, I was terrified. I never felt good enough and I was always waiting to be found out.
I binged on food and drank too much to numb my chronic anxiety. Sugar and alcohol were my crutches. Despite my constant self-doubt, they temporarily eased my fear and gave me the courage to perform.
I also managed my anxiety through excess work. I put in extra hours and tried to be perfect. But I could never work hard enough. I burned out, broke down and was signed off sick, leaving a hole in the Reuters parliamentary team.
Perhaps you’ve been on a similar journey yourself, you have colleagues who are off sick or you’re in charge of an organisation that’s struggling with absenteeism due to anxiety, stress, or depression. If so, you are not alone.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 12 billion working days are lost annually to anxiety and depression, at the cost of 1 trillion US dollars in lost productivity. Anxiety is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, from May 15 to 21, so now is an ideal time to support people to manage their anxiety and stress.
Take the Pressure Off
Anxiety is a normal response mechanism that kicks in when we feel stressed, pressured, or threatened. It helps us to stay alert to dangers and motivates us to find solutions to problems. Yet too often in today’s workplaces, people feel permanently pressured and like they’re drowning in problems. As a leader of an organisation, you can reduce the stimuli that trigger people’s anxiety – in other words, take the pressure off.
You can assign more realistic workloads, cancel unnecessary meetings and promote more flexible working. You can banish bullying or overbearing management styles, do away with blame culture and foster an environment where it’s acceptable to make mistakes. You can model and maintain healthy boundaries around working hours, and encourage people to take time off. Importantly, you can find out why people are anxious and respond to their concerns, which leads me to my next point.
Foster Open & Honest Conversations
I kept my binge eating, drinking and anxiety secret, partly because I felt entirely alone. Nobody else seemed to be struggling, so who would I tell? As organisations, it’s vital to nurture a culture of honest, open communication and a sense of psychological safety so that people feel comfortable speaking about the pressures they’re under and asking for help.
Wellbeing and mental health must be part of every performance appraisal but that’s just the start. Perhaps you could create physical spaces in the workplace where frank conversations are encouraged or organise a wellbeing walk and talk. This culture of openness starts at the top. Leaders need to have the courage to drop the bulletproof façade and be vulnerable.
Wellbeing speakers and workshops can help promote this culture. I’ve had the opportunity to speak on topics including eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling addictions, depression, anxiety and imposter syndrome. By sharing my story of addiction, burnout and recovery, I permit others to be honest and authentic. This creates a domino effect and helps shift cultures, as this feedback on a talk I gave demonstrates:
“I know colleagues felt really safe to share personal stories they may not have done previously. Thank you for creating that environment,”
– Charlotte at the Valuation Office Agency
A more open culture will help to reduce absenteeism and boost morale and it will work wonders for productivity and creativity. Wellbeing speakers can also offer tools and strategies to support people to take responsibility for their own mental health, which brings me to my final point…
Encourage Wellbeing Practices
If we can regulate our emotions, we will be less prone to anxiety and more able to respond to stressors in a balanced way. I have spent the last two decades learning to regulate my emotions and to nurture a sense of peace through wellbeing practices including mindfulness, breathwork, journaling, exercise, sharing with others, connecting with nature and creativity. These practices build our inner resources so we can respond with greater calm when things go wrong.
As an organisation, you can support people to develop practices that will help them manage strong emotions. This may include providing physical spaces and time in the calendar to meditate, exercise, be creative or connect with others as well as by organising expert-led wellbeing sessions.
If these three measures seem time-consuming or costly, think about the return. Deloitte’s UK Mental Health Report found that for every £1 spent by employers on mental health interventions, they could get back £5.30 in reduced absence, presenteeism and staff turnover.
That’s a worthwhile investment, don’t you think?
Book a Speaker for Mental Health Awareness Week 2023
To book a mental health speaker for World Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, like Katherine Baldwin, get in contact with one of our dedicated booking agents at 0203 9816 296 or fill out our online contact form.