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Anxiety in the workplace: it’s affecting everyone in different ways

This is part four of a series of blog posts pulled from our extensive New World of Work 2022 Survey Report. Here, we explore the continued anxiety in the workplace that both employees and businesses are feeling even now.

anxiety at work

A common theme throughout the work world – and society in general – is the impact of the pandemic on mental health, and ultimately the rise of mental health as a talked-about topic in the workplace. Rapidly diminishing is the stigma around mental health, and growing is the inclusion of mental health in overall discussions around workplace health.

As is the case for many other developments during the pandemic, the growth of mental health in the social zeitgeist is not itself a result of the increased stressors resulting from social change over the last few years. Rather, it’s something that was probably bound to happen – and the impact of COVID-19 on society was the catalyst for it to happen.

Grief expert David Kessler – best known for his collaborative work with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross on the book Grief and Grieving – said in 2020:

“We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

“The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

We covered mental health extensively in a comprehensive survey in early 2022, and shared the resulting insights in our Mental Health in the Workplace Survey Report. So the above insight comes as no surprise.

And we learned in our new survey on the New World of Work that anxiety in the workplace continues to be a factor impacting both employers and employees.

Insecurity a factor in hiring

A lack of confidence in overall security continues to have a negative impact on hiring. Nearly half (44.5%) of respondents say that uncertainty among candidates about physical safety at work was a challenge throughout the pandemic, and 38.9% say it’s still a challenge today.

Already working but hardly producing?

General disengagement among workers is a reality for many businesses. Three out of five respondents (58.3%) say that employee disengagement and lack of morale are major challenges in this post-COVID work world.

Business processes are being tripped up

Even the higher-ups aren’t feeling particularly at ease about the overall business landscape. A full half of respondents (50.7%) say a major challenge of filling positions is not being able to identify existing gaps or anticipate upcoming ones. Nearly half (45.3%) say it’s continuing to be a problem right now – which makes anxiety in the workplace a reality even for organizations.

What does all this tell us?

There are several conclusions we can draw from this. One, employers aren’t doing a great job of reassuring candidates and employees of the safety of their workplace. Two, the fluctuation of guidelines and recommendations regarding COVID may be affecting the confidence of workers.

And third, the mounting friction between executives and employees on a return-to-office strategy may be contributing to an increase in anxiety in the workplace for employees – especially for those who don’t love the idea of returning to the physical workplace:

And finally, of course, there’s the consistent undercurrent of economic uncertainty through it all.

One respondent told us: “All I know is that these are very uncertain times and we really cannot plan anything concrete. So what we have learnt is the same old fundamental law of nature and that is ‘Keep adapting to the changes around you’, and we can be sure of winning the challenge.”

Humans don’t like uncertainty – we are, after all, creatures of habit. A core theme throughout all these insights is that there isn’t enough clarity: candidates don’t feel confident about safety in the workplace, management aren’t able to identify or predict gaps in workflows, and the see-saw battle between going back to the office or staying remote is ongoing.

Often, clarity on processes and plans can go a long way in reassuring your workers and your colleagues. It’ll go a long way in terms of engagement and overall workplace mental health.

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