There’s no denying the modern workforce is a stressful one.
Advancements in technology have meant we often take our work home with us. From catching up on emails to pulling out the laptop and doing another 2-3 hours work after you’ve officially clocked off, the pressure to be available and switched on has never been so high.
Anxiety is said to affect two million Australians each year, and a recent study revealed that one in three employees suffer from anxiety, along with depression and stress. As a result, the widespread impact is not limited to individual’s wellbeing and personal relationships but also on their career progression, which ultimately affects an organisation’s productivity and bottom line. Even more telling is the fact that less than half of employees are comfortable sharing their mental health issues with senior bosses.
So what can businesses and leaders do to address mental health issues in the workplace from the top down? We spoke to Daniela Kraus, the director and COO of XVenture, about the impact anxiety has on an organisation and the crucial role business leaders play in dealing with the epidemic.
What’s the difference between work stress compared to anxiety in the workplace?
I think it depends on how you define stress and anxiety. The two could be thought of as interchangeable, however generally from our experience, work stress is temporary.
For example, I could open my diary and feel stressed at the amount I need to get done on a given day or completed by a specific deadline. Once I get through the day, or complete the deadline, then ordinarily my stress level declines. You could think of stress as a response to a perceived threat (eg. a deadline or full diary) and once that threat disappears, so can the feeling of stress.
You could argue that stress is a pre-curser to anxiety. For example, if a person experiences a pattern of recurring stress, this can lead to prolonged and constant symptoms, resulting in anxiety.
Why do rates of anxiety in the workplace continue to rise?
In my opinion there are a number of factors. I think that one of the biggest shifts in the last 12 years, certainly for me, has been the change in technology – in particular smartphones. Back when I started my career in advertising in my early 20’s all I had was a simple (back then ‘latest’) Nokia flip phone. There was only a phone number and at best I would get text messages from my colleagues – there weren’t any emails, or even MMS. The expectation to be available 24/7 wasn’t there either.
Remember the last time you were on a bus, a train or in an elevator – most people will have been glued to their screens. Somehow an insatiable hunger for reading and consuming not just emails but looking into the lives of others (and posting how great your own is). What this means is that people are not just sticking to social media pages, but they are then also ‘dipping into’ work related emails at all hours of the day. As a result, the expectations of response times on emails has increased. We are all party to this phenomenon. Change is moving faster now days too.
I also think we should consider the change in workplace teams a few years ago, versus to how it is now. Teams used to come to work, pretty much sit together, or in close proximity (with a dedicated desk) and generally had the same hours. This not only means a lot more time spent together, but also more likelihood of informal chat and getting to know work colleagues more closely. These days, there is a lot more flexibility and technology enables employees to work remotely. There are many workplaces with a ‘hot desk’ system, meaning that dedicated ‘home’ workspace doesn’t exist. All of these factors result in daily change and less time spent really getting to know team mates.
What are the symptoms of someone experiencing anxiety in the workplace? What are workplace behaviours that could show signs of someone suffering with mental health issues?
- Irritability with day-to-day living conditions e.g. traffic, weather, IT issues
- Frequent negative opinions about colleagues and/or clients
- Negative-future expectancy on suggested plans and ideas
- Inability to focus – easily distracted by any stimuli in the environment
- Procrastination – putting off a task by thinking about irrelevant problems/tasks
- Changed lifestyle habits – including poor sleep patterns, change in diet and reliance on drugs and/or alcohol
- Lower productivity, increased sickness and absence
All of these will have a negative impact on the relationships in teams and organisations.
How can senior bosses create a mentally healthy workplace?
It’s good to have a culture where it’s encouraged to ‘switch off’ – take the opportunity to stop checking emails at a certain time in the evening and on weekends (depending on the nature of work). Also, not having the expectation that work needs to be completed after hours or on the weekends.
It’s important for bosses to provide this support by encouraging their team to ‘push back’ on client demands or taking time to regroup to re-prioritise internal deadlines if more important issues arise.
How can co-workers support each other during times of high stress?
In a team where there are high levels of emotional intelligence, times of stress will be dealt with more successfully than in those which don’t. I think it’s important too for teammates to have an empathy towards their colleague/s who are experiencing high stress, and if possible, provide support in the form of offering to help in some way – even a simple thing such as encouragement to go for a quick walk outside, or even just stand up and walk around. Suggesting a quick coffee or lunch is also nice way to give them a bit of a break.
Daniela Kraus (Director and Chief Operating Officer, XVenture) – Daniela holds a Graduate Certificate in Organisational Coaching, a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Daniela has been part of XVenture for 7 years. Daniela is passionate about exploring ways to support individuals, teams and organisations to unearth their potential using XVenture’s unique approach.