Managing anxiety at work

Published: Thursday, 22 March 2018

With growing awareness about anxiety and the impact it can have on both pupils and members of staff, Louis Wingrove looks at some ways to tackle the problem in the school office.

Summary

  • There are symptoms of anxiety that we can look out for in our colleagues and ourselves.
  • SBMs can take action to support colleagues and reduce anxiety in their teams.
  • Effective ways of reducing anxiety in colleagues include: setting a good example, communicating clearly, and engendering an open and blame-free culture.

Symptoms to look for

The symptoms of stress and anxiety are largely the same, but the key difference is that stress is a reaction to an external stressor, such as a pressing deadline, and so will often pass once the external threat has gone. Anxiety, on the other hand, can be ongoing, even when the stressor has passed.

Anxiety is caused by our worries and fears. It is sometimes a reaction to stress, but it may not have a specific cause: we might feel generally fearful and anxious but not know the reasons why. Heart palpitations, tense muscles, insomnia and an ongoing feeling of dread are all symptoms of anxiety. We see it in others through their tense body language, patterns of sickness, avoidance of situations and comforting repetitive behaviour. d more openly.”

Giving support

As managers, how do we support people in our team who are anxious? There is no easy answer. If you suspect severe anxiety in one of your colleagues, it is advisable to direct them to their GP. However, there are some things we can do to try and reduce anxiety in our team.

Set an example

Firstly, we need to make sure that we are not contributing to the anxiety and stress of others. I’ve worked with many teams who talk about their own managers causing stress and increasing others’ anxiety, not just in their own team, but across the business.

We need to set a good example: we may work long and hard, but at some point we do need to disconnect emotionally from work.

Our motivation may be loyalty to our headteacher and a desire to support the students in our schools, but we also have a responsibility for our own health, mental and physical, and the health of our team. If our team see us working all hours and never having any down time, then that is the example they follow. Perhaps you thrive on being busy, but not everyone does. So lead by example and implement ‘serial monotasking’, since multitasking does not work and contributes to our stress.

Monotask

When we are constantly busy doing things, when we multitask, when we never switch off, our ability to handle things is diminished.

As managers we need to set the boundaries and give permission to our teams to take time out. We have a duty of care to help our teams to manage their productivity, stress and mental health. We need to set the example.

Focus on one thing before moving on to the next and encourage others to do the same. We therefore need to ensure that, when we set deadlines and when we delegate tasks, we are clear about overlaps of time.

Communicate clearly

Are you putting people under too much pressure to deliver?

Communication is the key, and knowing what people are working on. Of course, we don’t always have the luxury of determining the tasks or the timeline. As a manager it’s then up to you to help your team to prioritise what is important and what can be left till later.

Talking therapies are now well recognised ways of supporting people with anxiety problems. At work, one of the key ways we can reduce anxiety is to ensure that we keep communicating.

So, when was the last time you sat down with the people in your team to talk things through? Not just as a whole team, but individually? And not just about the ‘doing’ of the work but generally, how things are going and how people feel about what’s happening at work?

Be open

When was the last time you discussed emotions or asked your team to give you feedback? Creating a culture of openness, without blame, and having genuine empathy and compassion for others can go a long way to reducing overall anxiety. Research about what makes a great leader consistently shows that the skills of trust, listening and empathy – emotional intelligence – are what is needed in today’s workplace.

Have a little fun

When was the last time you and your team had fun at work? If it has all become a little too serious, then it’s time for some levity. Do not underestimate the impact of a good belly laugh at work; it works wonders in reducing tension and anxiety. It also helps to build relationships and put things into perspective.

Try different approaches

Have you tried walking meetings? Take the opportunity to hold meetings outdoors, breathe in the fresh air and get a different outlook.

When I coach business leaders I often do this. Walking is relaxing, it helps the brain to reflect and helps to reduce physical tension in the body. If you have the luxury of green space near you then you have an advantage. But even a short walk down a city pavement can work wonders for relieving stress, getting people to open up (much more than they do sitting around a desk) and remembering that the world is bigger than just us and our problems, worries or fears. Listening to the birds singing, seeing the trees moving or looking at the tourists in Trafalgar Square is time well spent.

When we are anxious, the world can seem a challenging and difficult place. We can become all-consumed by our anxiety about what might happen. Setting a good example, listening and checking in with others, creating a fun and productive but re-laxed workplace will all support you and your team to reduce and manage anxiety.

About the author

Louise Wingrove has been a trainer and coach for over 20 years and has led training teams in companies in both the public and private sectors. She is director of training consultancy Funky Learning This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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