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Angsting about Angst?

05 September 2011

Angsting about Angst?

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Anxiety, it would appear, has become an uncomfortably normal state to live in, casting a dark shadow over many employees lives – but does it need to be this way?

Who knows if stock market concern that a double dip recession is imminent is justified or not? Only time will tell. However the current levels of concern about something that might not even happen did strike me as being indicative of one thing: the world we live in is a state of heightened anxiety.

News reports rarely fail to contain the words ‘crisis’ while survey after survey reveals that we all feel more angst-ridden than ever. Indeed, Validium’s own research into the issues that employees most want support with shows that the vast majority of workers are very much affected by heightened anxiety levels, with 72% of those surveyed saying they want help to reduce stress and anxiety levels.

So there you have it: whether due to relationship issues, health concerns, work-life balance or financial worries (the other areas employees most want support with), nearly three quarters of employees have lost their confidence in their ability to cope. I say ‘confidence’ because a study into who stays healthy under pressure shows it’s not the scale of the challenge facing us, but our confidence in our ability to overcome this that most determines whether or not we become too stressed to function. So what can employers do to help?

Give Back Control

The more control we feel we have over our lives, the more empowered and able we feel to address the challenges we confront. To increase employees’ resilience, give them a greater sense of control by discouraging micro-management and empowering them wherever possible, even if this is just means letting them take ownership of a project or assessing them on output, their results, rather than time input, to allow them to work in the most effective way for them.

Identify Warning Signs

Prior to becoming adversely affected by stress or anxiety, most employees will emit clear warning signals. It can help to prevent further deterioration if managers are equipped with the ability to detect stress signals such as the following and take appropriate action, rather than turning a blind-eye, as is typical - for fear of seeming intrusive.

Early warning signs emitted by employees entering into crisis include:

 

  • Physical warning signs: weight gain or loss and increased susceptibility to colds 
  • Emotional warning signs: out of character mood swings, tearfulness or aggressive outbursts 
  • Cognitive warning signs: forgetfulness, decreased concentration and becoming error prone 
  • Behavioural warning signs: reduced eye contact and decreased social interaction

 

Provide Appropriate Support

The aim isn’t to turn managers into counsellors, but instead help them to identify employees in need of help so that they can be directed towards appropriate support, such as HR or an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). The latter is an incredibly cost effective way of enabling employees to access 24-7 support with any emotional, health, financial, legal, family or care issue causing them distress.

Boost Vitality

Sleep deprivation and poor diet can have a huge impact on resilience to mental health disorders. Allowing employees to work late and skip lunch is a false economy, so educate managers and employees alike about the importance of looking after themselves and then, hopefully, even if there are still plenty of reasons to feel gloomy, we can at least help employees to see the light at the end of the tunnel and glide, as opposed to strive, towards this.

Anxiety may well appear to prevail the minute we switch on the TV, open a newspaper, set foot outside the house, boot up our PCs at work or check our mobiles for messages. But while we can’t always control which momentous challenges come our way – or even the prevent the niggles of daily life encroaching on our effectiveness at work or job satisfaction – we can at least learn a few simple steps, as individuals, not to be swept away by a tide of anxiety. And for employers, giving people those coping strategies has the potential to pay handsome dividends.

Join the Twitter debate: Each month Validium will be tweeting our take on a hot employment issue at @ValidiumEAP. Join the debate by telling us what you think.

Have we become an angst-ridden society?  Or are current levels of stress justified?”

9/11: Ten years on

Ten years on, many of those who witnessed the 9/11 attacks are still deeply traumatised.  The sad reality is that very few employers can predict when or where an employee’s life might come under threat, so a little upfront planning is essential to preventing the long-term psychological damage that easily result otherwise.

Download our free guide - preparing for a critical incident

Read last month’s blog entry - 'When Trauma Comes to Work' in previous post on the left hand side link.