The Impact of Anxiety on Employees and Leaders

June 16, 2023

The Impact of Anxiety on Employees and Leaders

Being an effective leader is a challenging task, regardless of your expertise or tenure. As a leader, you play multiple roles, ranging from coach and mentor to drill sergeant or disciplinarian when necessary.

The key lies in understanding the individual needs of your employees and providing support when they need it. However, human behavior is inherently unpredictable. As a leader, you must be versatile, able to quickly assess the situation and adapt to the needs of your team.

Unfortunately, in this era of unprecedented change and challenges, accurately assessing your team's state requires the ability to detect subtle and unexpected signs of anxiety. Regardless of the industry you work in, it is highly likely that your employees are experiencing more stress than ever before.

However, different generations exhibit, experience, and process anxiety in unique ways. As a leader, it is crucial to recognize these differences and adjust your approach accordingly. This includes acknowledging the increased risks that younger employees may face and taking appropriate action.

Why does it matter?

Anxiety is not just a temporary discomfort; it can be debilitating. Over 40 million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental illness in the US. The impact goes beyond individual suffering, as anxiety-related physical and mental health challenges result in healthcare costs of over $42 billion annually. Furthermore, anxiety in the workplace is strongly linked to decreased productivity, performance issues, increased absenteeism, and high attrition rates.

Is it a generational issue?

Anxiety, both in and out of the workplace, is not a new phenomenon. However, a growing body of research suggests that certain demographic groups are more susceptible to developing anxiety disorders and experiencing their significant effects.

Studies show that younger generations, especially millennials and Generation Z, are particularly vulnerable to anxiety. Over 50% of workers under the age of 23 have reported feeling anxious due to stress in the previous month, while 40% of millennials reported the same. This is significantly higher than the national average of 34%, indicating that anxiety disproportionately affects young people.

It is not surprising that younger generations face higher vulnerability, considering the unique challenges they have encountered during their transition to adulthood. Generation Z grew up in a different world compared to their leaders. They have experienced active shooter drills in schools, constant exposure to digital devices, and the need to protect themselves against cyberbullying and online exploitation. Moreover, they witnessed the economic aftermath of the Great Recession. Now, as they prepare to enter the workforce, they face increased competition, greater demands, and less job security. Given these circumstances, it is natural for them to feel anxious.

What can be done?

Regardless of your business or the apparent effectiveness and happiness of your team, as a leader, you have a responsibility to prioritize both your employees' performance and their well-being in the workplace. After all, it is difficult to expect the best from your employees if you do not actively support them and foster a positive work environment that enables them to thrive.

To understand your employees' mental health needs, one of the best initial steps is to work with them individually to identify their personal triggers. Responses to stressors vary not only between generations but also from person to person.

Providing your staff with a quiet space to retreat to when work becomes overwhelming can be a simple yet effective measure. This space could be used for activities like listening to music, meditating, or taking a short nap. Such a provision not only helps them manage stress but also communicates their value as individuals to both you and the company.

Furthermore, as a leader, one of the most impactful things you can do to help employees of all generations overcome anxiety is to promote and model the mindset that adversity presents opportunities. The ultimate goal is to foster resilience

How does this impact the leaders?

The impact of anxiety on leaders is significant in several ways. First and foremost, leaders bear the responsibility of creating a supportive and understanding work environment for their employees. They need to be aware of the prevalence of anxiety and its potential effects on their team's productivity, performance, and well-being.

Leaders must adapt their leadership approach to accommodate the different ways in which anxiety manifests across generations. Understanding the unique challenges faced by younger employees, such as those from Generation Z and millennials, is crucial. These generations have grown up in a world with distinct stressors and uncertainties, and leaders need to be mindful of these factors when managing and supporting them.

To effectively address anxiety in the workplace, leaders should take proactive steps. This includes working with employees individually to identify their triggers and stressors. By doing so, leaders can develop tailored strategies and action plans to mitigate anxiety before it escalates into more serious mental health issues.

Providing a designated space for employees to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed can also make a significant difference. This quiet space can serve as a sanctuary for relaxation, meditation, or even a short nap. By offering this space, leaders demonstrate their commitment to employee well-being and send a message that individuals' mental health matters.

Moreover, leaders can contribute to combating anxiety by promoting a positive mindset within their teams. Encouraging employees to view challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth and development helps foster resilience. By modeling this mindset themselves, leaders inspire their employees to face difficulties with confidence and turn them into learning experiences.

Overall, leaders play a crucial role in addressing and managing anxiety in the workplace. By understanding the impact of anxiety on different generations and implementing appropriate strategies, leaders can create a supportive environment that enables employees to thrive both personally and professionally.