75% of UK workers now experiencing workplace anxiety according to The Adaptavist Group Mental Health Awareness survey
According to the latest research from The Adaptavist Group, 75% of UK and US office workers now say they experience workplace anxiety, with a little over one-quarter saying it happens often to almost all the time. This is a significant shift from just nine months ago, when only 38% of UK and 36% of US respondents in Adaptavist’s Reinventing Work study said they suffered from anxiety when returning to work.
This year, both Brits and Americans said their ‘increased workload’ made them feel most anxious (46% and 38%, respectively). In the US, this was followed by ‘less time for family/personal commitments’ (29%) and ‘no alone time/down time’ (27%), while in the UK, it was ‘my appearance’ (30%) and ‘less time for family/personal commitments’ (28%).
These are just some of the findings from the recent survey on mental health in the workplace, which was conducted in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. Over 800 UK and 1,000 US workers provided new insights on the causes of workplace anxiety and its effect on them.
A post-pandemic shift: from commuter to workload and appearance anxiety
In less than a year, the source of anxiety in the workplace has changed from worrying about going back to the office, and all that comes with it – mostly notably the commute and lack of privacy/alone time – to worries about work itself. In addition to dealing with increased workloads, which likely contribute to less time for family/personal commitments and little/no downtime, one of the newest concerns is personal appearance. Almost one-third of UK respondents and one-quarter of US respondents said they now worry about how they look at work.
Psychotherapist and Mental Health Expert Petra Velzeboer says: “This shift is understandable. Anxiety and stressors evolve and change, along with the workplace setting and individual circumstances. Managing increased workloads due to layoffs or reorganisation can be a major stressor for many of us, especially when markets shift, and workers no longer feel they can speak up or push back. And the age of the video call has made almost everyone scrutinise their appearance more, often in an unhealthy way; think of it as Zoom dysmorphia. UK workers need support—both inside the workplace and out—to navigate these changing tides.”
The economic cost of unchecked workplace anxiety
While the personal harm that anxiety causes is more than enough to make workplaces take it seriously, there is a severe economic impact too. Asked how anxiety affects them, 43% of workers said it makes them less productive. In the UK, this was followed by 32% indicating it contributes to feelings of inadequacy, and 28% saying it contributes to burnout and the need to take time off. In the US, 37% said it contributes to burnout and 33% said it causes chronic stress (both in the office and outside).
And the cost is major. According to the American Institute of Stress, job stress is estimated to cost the US economy more than $300 billion in losses due to absenteeism, reduced productivity and accidents, plus $190 billion in healthcare costs. In the UK, insurance giant AXA and the Centre of Economic and Business Research found that work-related stress and burnout cost the UK economy £28bn a year, resulting in 23.3m sick days a year, underscoring the negative impact on employees and employers.
Mental Health Resources and First Aiders in the Workplace
The research also suggests that UK and US workplaces could do more to support workers. Only 10% of UK and 16% of US workers said they had accessed their employer’s mental health resources in the last year, and only 31% of UK and 30% of US workers knew about their company’s employee assistance program. But demand is increasing; when asked if they were accessing any mental health resources, 62% of UK and 53% of US respondents said they were not in 2022, while this year, the number dropped to 27% and 16%, respectively.
What can employers do? One bright spot seems to be with providing Mental Health First Aiders. A few years ago, the role didn’t even exist, and now they are the top choice for UK respondents, with 35% identifying them most as a key resource provided by employers. Only 18% of US respondents said their employer offers Mental Health First Aiders at their workplace—a clear opportunity for improvement.
Here are some practical tips for successfully overcoming anxiety from our partner and leading workplace mental health expert, Petra Velzeboer. These tips can be used by individuals and teams alike and adapted to meet individuals wherever they are in their mental health journey:
1. Practice bravery
Being brave doesn't always mean taking on big challenges; it can mean taking little steps to re-learn how to engage in the world, even when you’re feeling anxious. Chatting to your barista as you order coffee, calling a colleague you don’t usually speak to, asking a friend a real question and being curious about the answer are all ways to engage—and the more you do it, the braver you feel and the easier it gets.
2. Switch off your notifications
Everyone needs to stay connected to what’s happening in the world, but it’s essential to examine our use of technology and assess whether it adds value. After all, your body doesn’t know the difference between an important alert and a ping telling you there is breaking celebrity news—your nervous system treats it all the same. So, assessing who you follow on social media and the time you spend in distraction mode can help you connect to your body and manage anxiety in the earliest stages to prevent escalation.
3. Shake it out
The best way to manage stress from 'stacking up' and eventually leading to burnout is to incorporate movement throughout your day. While a long session in the gym is excellent, it’s not always possible and doesn’t always help you manage anxiety throughout a whole day, so incorporating small sets of activity (even walk-and-talk meetings) is essential. And if you've just completed a big project or deadline, make sure to recover afterwards so the anxiety and adrenaline can move through your body rather than staying stuck.
We all know what boundaries are, but we often don’t know how to set and stick to healthy ones. How often have you found yourself eating at your desk vs. taking a lunch break, or working late vs. making it an early night because you got stuck in meetings? This can lead to not only anxiety but resentment, the first clue that you may need to set a boundary. If you find yourself in this scenario, decide what an appropriate limitation might be, set it, and then communicate it to the people who may be affected by it. That last part is critical—many times, people are surprised when their boundary isn’t respected, and a lack of communication is usually the culprit.
5. Talk about it
We need to create positive accountability in our teams and friendship groups where we can challenge the behaviours in our control and take responsibility for our wellbeing. This might be asking how your friend invests in their mental health today. Or, if they’ve finished a big project, ask them how they’ll recover and support themselves. It takes bravery to ask these questions and, more importantly, to lead by example in your own actions and take positive steps to support your own wellbeing.