If your business is like most businesses out there, you have probably made the decision to implement a full or partial return to the office. You have put the protocols in place and can ensure the safety of your staff members and have welcomed back the faces that have been so dearly missed over the past few months.
For many of your outgoing and sociable staff members, the return might have been welcomed with open arms. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and re-establish a sense of familiarity they have been craving for months. For others, however, the return to the office is something they have been dreading. While some people are naturally comfortable with making small talk and closer social encounters, others are not.
Statistics indicate that at least 6.1% of South Africans endure General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in their lifetime (which equates to one in every 16 employees), while Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) troubles 2-5% of South Africans. Cultivating a corporate culture that makes these individuals feel valued and understood is vital in a modern society in which we are constantly becoming more aware of the real effect that mental health awareness can have in the workplace.
Here are a few simple tips on how to ensure that employees affected by anxiety feel safe:
One of the main workplace stressors, whether for employees with GAD, SAD, or any other employee, is unclear expectations and communication.
Perhaps the worst four words that anybody could hear are “We need to talk”. These kinds of words, which point to an unknown and uncomfortable conversation, can send even the calmest of minds racing. To reduce anxiety in the workplace, steer clear of any communication that presents a problem without clear indication of what it relates to. Rather, be specific and arrange meetings to discuss serious matters with little delay.
Another primary stressor for anyone living with GAD or SAD is not knowing how others will react to what they say or do. If their questions are frequently met with irritation or judgement, not only does it add to anxiety, but moreover, it means they will be less likely to feel comfortable enough to ask questions in the future.
Instead, you will need to cultivate a culture where questions are not only welcomed but encouraged among all employees. This culture must also promote criticism delivered in a friendly manner that does not criminalise those who make a mistake.
Contrary to popular belief, introversion is not a result of shyness, but rather a preference for smaller groups and solitude to become re-energised. Neither does introversion equal a disliking of people. Modern collaborative workspaces place a greater demand on energy and too often require an always-on attitude, which can be overwhelming for introverted individuals or those living with anxiety.
This is why you need to create spaces for employees to retreat from the bustling office scene and recharge. Not only does it mean that introverted employees have a place of escape to refocus their mind on work, but it can be a great relief for any employees that have social or general anxiety as it provides a temporary escape from the constant influx of sensory information.
One of the greatest skills that you can imbue in your staff is empathy. The ability to understand others by attempting to stand in their place is becoming more and more valuable in creating unity and caring for the dignity of your employees.
Destigmatising previously misunderstood mental health conditions is essential in creating a safe space for your employees living with anxiety and gives them the room to wear it openly without fear of being judged as timid and over-sensitive. Awareness creates change and gives affected employees the courage to work without the threat of anxiety.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)