Work as we knew it took an unexpected twist with the arrival of the pandemic. As our social and societal dynamics changed overnight, many individuals have been grappling with stress and anxiety in new and frenetic ways.

However, humans are incredibly adaptable, and during this shift (which is still ongoing), senior leadership and employers have a unique opportunity to support their workforce, help them cope with daily stressors, eliminate toxic workplace behaviour, offer abundant resources and guide their employees towards contributing positively to their families and communities.

We can find inspiration in that many employers worldwide have woken up to the undeniable importance of mental health and well-being in the workplace. It is not just a passing trend. According to the McKinsey Health Institute, employee well-being has become a top priority for four out of five HR leaders across the globe. It has been inspiring to see the changes being implemented.

Companies are offering their employees a robust mix of wellness benefits like app subscriptions, workout class stipends, mandatory mental-health days, in-office meditation sessions, and even workshops ranging from productivity to time management. McKinsey Health Institute estimated that nine in ten organisations are jumping on the wellness program bandwagon.

However, it is important to note that wonderful mindfulness classes do not tackle the issue from the root. No amount of zen sessions will fix a work environment filled with stress and anxiety. Addressing issues head on and creating supportive and psychologically safe work environments where compassion and empathy are front and centre is the key.

So many of us have dealt with stress and anxiety at work and some of these causes as listed by Breathe HR are:

  • High workloads
  • Performance worries
  • Workplace stress
  • Conflict with colleagues
  • Presenteeism (coming to work when sick, working overtime)

The workplace environment leaders create plays a massive role in all of this. According to McKinsey Health Institute, workplace behaviuor is the ultimate villain in this story. It has been shown that over 60 percent of folks who experience burnout symptoms intend to leave that work environment. That’s a very, very big number. The toxic issues are massive and dangerous, and we must focus on the real culprits instead of playing whack-a-mole so to speak, with symptoms.

Many employers seem to be focusing on quick fixes, rather than tackling the root causes of employee anxiety. In reality, this does not work well, as it creates a false sense of reality.

In order to mend the workplace environment properly, a system must be put into place. If one is already in place, then it is time to reevaluate it. Review organisational systems, processes, and incentives to make the workplace a nurturing environment, not a breeding ground for anxiety, stress and burnout.

There are several steps that leaders can take to clear out toxic workplace behaviour and support employees with anxiety and burnout symptoms. Supporting employees with anxiety not only helps them but also contributes to a healthier and more productive work environment.

  • First, spot the signs and stay alert! Look for increased sick leave, drop in performance, difficulty making decisions, changes in eating habits, or excessive smoking and drinking amongst teams.
  • Always encourage open communication and work to build employee trust without being overbearing. This might mean an open-door policy, or no-stress check-in calls with team members.
  • While having these conversations with team members, communicating with empathy and understanding triggers is key. Make reasonable adjustments to aid their recovery, such as adjusting work hours or allowing them to work from home.
  • If you do not feel confident or comfortable with certain conversations, get trained! Consider mental health training for yourself and the management team.
  • Most importantly, prioritise employee well-being, mental health and create a supportive environment.

We need to also look at inclusivity – that is a key ingredient in the recipe for a healthy and thriving workplace filled with motivation. We are not talking about ticking off a diversity checkbox here. Inclusion is a whole package deal, and it needs to be embedded in everything we do. Imagine a workplace where everyone’s voice is heard, and each team member feels valued and supported.

Individual growth, motivation and development are not just buzzwords. Let’s give employees the opportunity to spread their wings, explore new territories, and grow beyond their wildest imaginations. Promoting sustainable work practices is a win-win situation. Empowering employees with control, predictability, and sufficient time for recovery leads to happier, healthier, and more productive teams. Compassion and empathy become your secret weapons, tailoring solutions to fit each employee’s unique needs.

For leaders, this isn’t just another box to check off your to-do list. Employee mental health and well-being are not just feel-good initiatives; they are absolute keys to success and overall motivation. Leaders who listen to their employees, prioritise well-being, and set clear, measurable goals – they are the true game-changers.

There needs to be a massive push to tackle stigma. At the root, the system must be one where we eliminate mental health stigmas, lead by example, show vulnerability, and create a safe space where employees can bring their whole selves to work without fear, shame or anxiety. Your employees aren’t just cogs in the machine; they’re superheroes and they need and deserve support on all fronts in order to feel motivated and empowered.

Rachel Fleischman
Licensed Psychotherapist and Founder at Bliss Counseling | Website | + posts

Rachel Fleischman is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, registered expressive arts therapist, workshop facilitator and speaker who over the last two decades has supported thousands of humans to deepen their creativity, feel understood, and love themselves fiercely. Through her private practice, Bliss Counseling, and a unique movement system she developed called Dance Your Bliss, Rachel works with individuals and couples and has expertise in crisis management, trust, body image, premarital and marital issues, sex therapy, depression, anxiety, life transition, and panic disorder, to name a few.