In a recent Aviva survey 1 of employees who normally work 9-5, 67% of respondents said they felt like their weekend is cut short because of a feeling of anxiety about work. How can we improve this?
On many levels, this is an alarming statistic. Quite apart from the very obvious effect on personal happiness which anxiety can cause, all of us need to recharge our batteries over the weekend in order to produce our best work when Monday comes around again. Reducing anxiety improves an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing, which in turn improves the resilience of the workforce and the business as a whole.
So, what’s causing the anxiety?
Heavy workload is the single biggest culprit. 42% of our survey’s respondents said this made them anxious – rising to 51% among middle managers.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, not being paid enough was another major cause of work-related weekend worry. Of all the professions, staff in sales, media and marketing complained the most about this (35%). And one in four employees in these fields also blamed ‘toxic staff’ for their anxiety – another unsettling factor which seems to be highest in businesses with 250-500 employees.
How can we solve the problem?
Our survey suggested that employees and company directors have differing ideas on how to banish that familiar feeling of ‘Sunday dread’ experienced by many as they contemplate the work week ahead. 40% of respondents said they’d like their employer to offer a four-day week as a wellbeing initiative to help combat work anxiety – though only 22% of directors favoured this. The bosses themselves were keener on later starts on Monday morning (31%) and free gym memberships (28%).
There are, however, less radical solutions. Several of these revolve around making positive changes to the culture of an organisation. Debbie Bullock, Aviva’s Wellbeing Manager, says:
If you have a working environment that supports your wellbeing it shouldn’t be one of dread, but one of purposeDebbie Bullock, Wellbeing Manager, Aviva
Making a difference: seven hot tips on helping employees to combat work anxiety:
- Train managers to recognise the signs
It’s important that line managers understand the warning signs when someone is finding it difficult to cope with growing levels of stress or anxiety. It’s worth investing in some training to help them learn more about the specific challenges which may face staff at different life stages and how these may lead to anxiety.
- Encourage a culture of openness
Ideally, people in the workplace should find talking about mental health just as easy as discussing physical ailments such as a bad back or a stubborn cold. Encourage employees to share their feelings with line managers and others, so that there’s no stigma associated with struggling to cope. Knowing you work in a supportive environment is sometimes enough in itself to combat stress.
- Think about presenteeism as well as absenteeism
In a typical year, presenteeism – impaired performance from employees who aren’t mentally fit to be at work – costs UK businesses 2 more than absenteeism. Make sure employees know they aren’t expected to ‘soldier on’ through times of mental or physical illness – and if they’ve been absent due to stress, manage their return to work carefully.
- Keep an eye on workload
Regular checks on workload will help your managers to identify employees who might have capacity to take on work from those who have the most on their plates. Sometimes, bottlenecks can be cleared by freeing up an employee from taking on fresh tasks or checking their emails for a while. The ‘Out of Office’ feature can be a great ally here… it’s not just for use when an employee is physically absent!
- Review your flexible working arrangements
Helping employees to work at the times when they’re most effective has advantages for everyone. Employees who know that they aren’t locked into 9-5 working hours will feel less anxious about missing important personal commitments.
- Consider forming an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
If you don’t already give your employees access to an EAP, it’s worth considering this. An EAP can put employees into contact with third parties such as counselling and referral services, helping them to deal with personal problems that might affect their performance and wellbeing at work.
- Encourage employees to plan ahead
Finally, a practical tip to pass on to employees. Sometimes, an anxiety-ridden weekend can be avoided by getting potential areas of worry off your mind. Encourage employees to plan out the week ahead before leaving work on a Friday. They can do this by using calendars, apportioning specific times to specific tasks and preparing to tackle the biggest challenges first. More than drawing up a to-do list, this means planning when a job will be done rather than wondering when to tackle it.