Editor’s Note: Here at Dispatches, we are always looking for ways to help our readers do things. For some of our readers, that means helping navigate the working world, for others, it means assisting in the ever challenging question,“what’s for dinner?” For still others, it means figuring out how to balance family life with everything else. In an effort to aid in all of these endeavors, we have collaborated on this article written specifically for our readers.
General anxiety is common. This report from Pfizer found “up to 1 in 4 adults will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, and that up to 1 in 10 people will have an anxiety disorder each year.” Think about those numbers. That means if you and three of your colleagues are standing at the water cooler, the chances are pretty good that one of you is dealing with an anxiety issue. You don’t have to suffer alone. Let’s collectively start thinking about mental health in the same way we think about and treat other illnesses, like the common cold, and ultimately remove the stigma.
Anxiety has a nasty way of manifesting itself in people without showing its true colors. Unfortunately, this can lead to poor job performance and unsociable behaviour. In time, this can cause all sorts of problems in your career, so you need to identify it early.
One of the reasons why anxiety isn’t so easily recognized is because it’s not easy to detect. Everyone can occasionally be anxious about things from time to time, from going to a big meeting to presenting or speaking in front of a lot of people.
Severe anxiety is much more pervasive. It can affect everything a person does from getting out of bed in the morning, to driving, to walking in the office door. It can make someone arrive late, take extra days off sick or quit a job they used to love.
It should come as no surprise work performance suffers. As a colleague or supervisor, try to put yourself in their shoes.
Perhaps your coworker is asked to do something that they aren’t comfortable with, beyond just learning a new job-related skill. If your colleague has a phobia of something and it is impacting their performance, encourage them to seek professional help. If you are the supervisor, the person may not feel comfortable discussing the issue with you.
In many office environments, there is an under-used benefit, an employee counseling service. The Fox Station I worked at in San Antonio had one, as has every other job I’ve had since. This information is usually available in benefit handouts with medical insurance information or by talking with the HR person.
It’s never a bad idea to gently encourage someone exhibiting anxious behavior to seek outside help. If it’s applicable, consider also encouraging that person to ask about their supervisor or HR director about altering their workload. If the alterations are short-term, the person may be able to use another under-used benefit, short-term disability (if the employer offers this benefit).
Anxiety can be quelled, but it’s a long-term process that should be identified as early as possible. As a colleague, the best thing you can do is be observant about behavior changes, keep an open mind and ideally an open door and gently encourage professional help.