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In any given year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem, and for many, the workplace can either be a place of solace or a contributing factor. Anxiety disorders are amongst the most common mental health conditions, often lurking behind the backdrop of our daily lives, influencing our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Given that we spend a significant proportion of our lives at work, it’s high time we address the elephant in the room and discuss how employers can play a crucial role in supporting staff with anxiety.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re shining a light on the ways in which employers can cultivate an anxiety-free work environment, underlining the importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace. In this article, we’ll look at practical steps that employers can take, the benefits of fostering an open and supportive work culture, and the crucial role of mental health training and awareness in professional settings.

Understanding Anxiety in the Workplace

Before we delve into the strategies employers can employ, it’s essential to grasp the realities of workplace anxiety. Anxiety, in the context of work, can manifest in a multitude of ways — persistent worries about performance, a constant fear of making mistakes, excessive tension around meeting deadlines, or dread about interacting with colleagues or clients. These experiences, while common, shouldn’t be the norm.

Anxiety can impair concentration, decision-making, and productivity, but more than that, it can significantly impact an individual’s happiness and wellbeing. This, in turn, can lead to increased staff turnover, reduced morale, and, importantly, it’s a considerable detriment to the mental health of your staff. Therefore, addressing anxiety is not only ethically right but also makes good business sense.

Understanding Anxiety in the Workplace: By the Numbers

Statistics underline the urgent need for employers to address anxiety in the workplace. A snapshot of the British and Scottish context reveals:

  • Mental health problems, including anxiety, are one of the leading causes of sickness absence in the UK, accounting for 70 million lost workdays each year.
  • In Scotland, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report estimated that 595,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2018/2019, leading to 12.8 million working days lost.
  • According to a study by the Mental Health Foundation, one third of people in Scotland experience mental health problems each year, including anxiety.
  • The Centre For Mental Health reports that mental health problems in the UK workforce cost employers almost £35 billion each year, with over half of this cost coming from ‘presenteeism’ – when individuals come to work but are less productive due to poor mental health.

These numbers underscore the magnitude of the problem and highlight the pressing need for employers to take proactive steps towards fostering a supportive work environment.

Understanding Employer Responsibilities: Mental Health in the Workplace

In the UK, employers have a legal and moral duty to take care of their employees’ mental health and wellbeing. This is set out in various pieces of legislation and guidelines, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and the Equality Act 2010. Here is what these responsibilities entail:

  • Risk Assessment: Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers are required to conduct risk assessments for work-related stress and mental health issues, just as they would for physical health risks.
  • Prevent Work-Related Mental Health Issues: The Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees.
  • Equality Act Compliance: The Equality Act classifies mental health conditions as disabilities. Therefore, employees with mental health conditions have the right to not be discriminated against at work. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to help them carry out their job without disadvantage.
  • Promote a Healthy Working Environment: Employers are encouraged to promote a positive mental health environment, provide support for employees when they experience mental health problems, and ensure open communication about mental health.
  • Training and Education: Employers are expected to provide training and resources for managers and staff to understand and support mental health at work.
  • Confidentiality and Privacy: Employers must respect and protect the privacy of employees. Any discussions about mental health must be confidential unless the employee gives explicit consent to share information.
  • Support and Accommodations: If an employee discloses a mental health issue, employers are expected to provide support and consider adjustments to the employee’s work or workspace to reduce their stress and anxiety.

In Scotland, employers can also refer to guidelines set by Healthy Working Lives, a Scottish government initiative, which provides resources and training to promote healthier and safer workplaces.
Remember, supporting mental health in the workplace isn’t just a legal obligation—it’s a crucial part of fostering a healthy, happy, and productive work environment. The better the mental health support, the stronger and more resilient the workforce.

Spotting the Signs: How to Identify and Support Someone Struggling with Anxiety in the Workplace

Anxiety can often go unnoticed. It is crucial for employers and co-workers alike to recognise the signs and symptoms of anxiety to provide timely and appropriate support. Here are some common signs of anxiety and steps you can take if you notice someone in your team displaying these signs:

Signs of Anxiety

  • Excessive Worrying: One of the key signs of anxiety is constant worry that’s out of proportion to the situation and persists even in the absence of stressors.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: People suffering from anxiety often find it hard to focus on their tasks due to intrusive, anxious thoughts.
  • Restlessness and Fatigue: If a person appears constantly restless or complains about tiredness despite adequate rest, it could be a sign of anxiety.
  • Avoidance Behaviour: If you notice an employee avoiding situations or tasks they usually handle, or skipping social events, they may be struggling with anxiety.
  • Physical Symptoms: Anxiety often manifests physically, including headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or gastrointestinal problems.

Supporting an Anxious Team Member

Once you’ve identified someone who might be struggling with anxiety, it’s important to approach the situation with sensitivity and care. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Initiate a Conversation: Create a safe and private space for conversation. Express your concern without judgement or assumptions. Use ‘I’ statements to avoid sounding accusatory, like “I’ve noticed that you’ve seemed a bit on edge lately. Is everything okay?”
  • Listen and Validate: Allow them to share their feelings without interruption. Validate their feelings, showing understanding and empathy.
  • Offer Support: Reassure them that they are not alone and that support is available. This could involve flexibility in working hours, workload adjustments, or providing resources for professional help.
  • Encourage Professional Help: Suggest seeking support from a mental health professional. Provide resources, such as those listed in the ‘Resources’ section, to guide them in seeking help.
  • Follow Up: Stay in touch to see how they are doing and continue to provide support. It shows you care and are there to support them.

Remember, it’s not your role to diagnose or treat anxiety, but you can play a crucial part in offering understanding, support, and resources. The more supportive the work environment, the easier it is for someone struggling with anxiety to seek help and manage their symptoms.

Fostering a Supportive Work Culture

Creating a supportive work culture starts with the acknowledgment of mental health as a fundamental aspect of overall wellbeing. Here’s how employers can create an environment conducive to mental health:

  • Open Up Conversations About Mental Health: It’s crucial to foster a work environment where mental health isn’t a taboo topic. Encourage open conversations about mental health and make it clear that asking for support is a sign of strength, not weakness. This could be through regular team meetings, one-to-one catch-ups, or even inviting external mental health professionals to run workshops or talks.
    • Use regular team meetings as a platform to discuss mental health and wellness.
    • Encourage one-to-one catch-ups between employees and their line managers focused on wellbeing.
    • Invite external mental health professionals to run workshops or talks that demystify mental health.

  • Invest in Mental Health Training: Investing in mental health training for all employees, not just managers, can make a world of difference. This can range from basic awareness courses to more detailed training such as Mental Health First Aid. This will ensure all staff have the understanding and tools necessary to support their own and their colleagues’ mental wellbeing.
    • Offer basic awareness courses that cover various aspects of mental health.
    • Provide more in-depth training like Mental Health First Aid for those interested or in managerial roles.
    • Ensure all staff understand the resources and support available should they or a colleague need it.

  • Adopt a Proactive Approach: Rather than waiting for a problem to occur, proactive employers might offer preventative measures such as mindfulness courses, resilience training, or Employee Assistance Programmes. Similarly, consider the ways in which you can make work less stressful in the first place. This might involve reviewing workload management or ensuring staff aren’t regularly working long hours.
    • Offer preventative measures such as mindfulness courses, resilience training, or Employee Assistance Programmes.
    • Review workload management, ensuring tasks are fairly distributed and timelines are achievable.
    • Advocate for a healthy work-life balance and discourage a culture of overworking.

  • Offer Flexibility: Flexible working arrangements can significantly alleviate stress for many workers. Whether that’s flexible start and finish times, the opportunity to work from home, or provision for mental health days, these measures can help staff manage their mental health in a way that works for them.
    • Introduce flexible start and finish times or the opportunity to work from home.
    • Allow for mental health days, so employees can take time off to focus on their mental wellbeing.
    • Encourage a culture that focuses on work output and quality, rather than hours spent at a desk.
  • Recognise the Signs: Ensure managers are equipped with the necessary training to spot signs of anxiety and other mental health problems. Early intervention can often prevent issues from escalating and can help ensure staff get the support they need promptly.
    • Equip managers with the necessary training to spot signs of anxiety and other mental health problems.
    • Foster an open environment where employees feel comfortable disclosing their mental health issues without fear of judgement or repercussion.
    • Ensure there’s a robust support system in place for when an employee reaches out for help.

  • Encourage Work-Life Balance: All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. Encourage your staff to take regular breaks, make full use of their holiday allowance, and discourage a culture of overworking. Healthy boundaries between work and personal life are essential for mental wellbeing.


In understanding and addressing mental health, it’s important to access trustworthy and useful resources. Here are some you can leverage as an employer:

  • Mental Health at Work: A gateway to documents, guides, tips, videos, courses, podcasts, templates and information from key organisations across the UK, all aimed at making your workplace less daunting. Website
  • See Me Scotland: Scotland’s programme to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination. They provide a range of information and resources aimed at workplaces. Website
  • SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health): One of Scotland’s leading mental health charities, SAMH offers a range of mental health resources, including a dedicated workplace resources section. Website
  • Mind: This UK charity provides advice and support for anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They have an extensive section dedicated to workplace mental health. Website
  • Mental Health Foundation: The UK’s charity for everyone’s mental health, offering a wealth of mental health resources, including those dedicated to workplace wellbeing. Website
  • ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service): An excellent source of free resources, guides and advice on mental health, wellbeing and other related employment laws in the UK. Website
  • NHS Inform – Mental Wellbeing: The Scottish NHS’s dedicated page to mental wellbeing. It offers a range of resources and tips on maintaining mental wellbeing, including in the workplace. Website
  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE): HSE provides guidelines on how employers can make adjustments and support employees dealing with stress and anxiety. Website

In Conclusion

Employers have a vital role in supporting their staff’s mental health. By taking proactive measures, fostering a supportive culture, and investing in mental health training, you can make a significant difference in creating an anxiety-free work environment. Not only will this lead to happier, healthier employees, but it will also benefit your organisation through increased productivity, reduced staff turnover, and a stronger team culture.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we encourage employers to reflect on the steps they can take to better support their staff’s mental health. After all, mental health is everyone’s business, and in the world of work, it starts at the top.

The power to create an anxiety-free workplace is in your hands. Now is the time to bridge the gap and make mental health a priority in your organisation. Together, we can all play our part in making work a safer, more supportive place for everyone.

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