New research from the Mental Health Foundation[i] to tie in with Mental Health Awareness Week has revealed six out of ten UK adults have experienced anxiety that interfered with their daily lives in the past two weeks. Other data from Mental Health UK suggests 1 in 8 people (over 8 million) are living with anxiety disorder at any one time[ii].
To help employees suffering from anxiety, Emma Capper, UK Wellbeing Leader at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing (HEBW), is urging businesses to normalise conversations about anxiety and to recognise that if someone is suffering from anxiety it can manifest itself in physical symptoms, as well as cognitive symptoms.
For example, The Health and Safety Executive highlights that stress, depression or anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders accounted for most days lost due to work-related ill health in 2021/22, 17.0 million and 7.3 million respectively. On average, each person suffering took around 16.5 days off work[iii].
Emma Capper said: “Most people experience symptoms of stress or anxiety at some point in the lives; however, an anxiety disorder can affect people’s ability to work or live their life to the full. This can have a huge impact on business leading to periods of absence, a lack of productivity and effect the wider team. Understanding that symptoms can be both physical and mental is important as it may be that some of the physical conditions or reasons for workplace absence being reported in the business or being experienced by individuals are routed in anxiety.
“The symptoms can range from headaches, nausea and a racing heart rate to difficulty concentrating, uncontrollable overthinking and trouble sleeping. Left untreated people can be susceptible to a whole range of more serious conditions from chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders to cardio, respiratory and immune system problems. However, treating the physical symptoms will only help to a degree as unless employers treat the root cause of the issue, the anxiety, and what is causing this the individual will not be able to recover as they will experience repeated flare-ups when feeling anxious.
“In Mental Health Awareness week, we encourage employers to open the conversation around anxiety to encourage people to speak up if they are feeling stressed or experiencing anxiety symptoms. This can enable employers to step in and offer support if needed, before problems escalates into something more serious.”
Other top tips on how employers can help include:
Ease of use and clear communication is key – ensuring that all employees know where and how to access support, particularly line managers who will likely be the affected employees’ first port of call is essential. There is no point spending budget on support if no one knows about it. Keeping language simple, clear and jargon free is important too.
Create a warm and open culture – it is important employees feel comfortable talking about their anxiety. This starts from the top down and is very dependent on the culture of the business. A culture where trust, respect and psychological safety are at its core will more naturally mean that people feel empowered to speak out and share experiences. This creates a positive snowball effect with people hearing others speaking about their struggles and how they overcome them, inspiring them to do the same and to seek appropriate clinical support or coping mechanisms.
Offer benefits and services – there a wide range of benefits and services designed to support and potentially treat individuals suffering from anxiety and/or the physical symptoms of this. These could include access to Private Medical Insurance (PMI) or added value services through a Group Income Protection policy. It could also include counselling or short-term therapy through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or access to a virtual GP (General Practitioner) for clinical advice.