New research from business transformation experts The Adaptavist Group has found that three-quarters of UK 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 respondents in Adaptavist’s Reinventing Work study said they suffered from anxiety upon returning to work. The chief stressor? Forty-six percent of respondents said Increasing workloads was their top concern, followed by their personal appearance (30%) and having less time for family or personal commitments (28%).
These are just some of the findings from the recent Adaptavist Group survey on mental health in the workplace, which was conducted in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. Over 800 UK workers provided new insights on the causes of workplace anxiety and its effect on them.
A post-pandemic shift: from commuter to 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 down time, one of the biggest concerns now is personal appearance.
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 – as a result of layoffs or reorganisation – can be a major stressor for many of us, especially when markets shift and workers no longer feel they have the ability to 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 serious economic impact too. Asked how anxiety affects them, 43% of workers said that it made them less productive, 32% said it contributes to feelings of inadequacy, and 28% said it contributes to burnout and the need to take time off. Insurance giant AXA and the Centre of Economic and Business Research found that work-related stress and burnout is costing the UK economy £28bn a year and resulting in 23.3m sick days a year, which not only negatively impact employees, but the employer as well.
Mental Health Resources and First Aiders in the Workplace
The research also suggests that UK workplaces could be doing more to support workers. Only 10% of workers surveyed said they had accessed their employer’s mental health resources in the last year, and only 31% knew about their company’s employee assistance program. But demand is increasing – when asked if they were accessing any mental health resources, 62% said they were not in 2022 while this year the number dropped to 27%.
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 number one choice for respondents, with 35% of UK workers identifying them most as a key resource provided by employers.
“One of the first things we talk to customers about is their people,”said Simon Haighton-Williams, CEO, The Adaptavist Group. “They usually want to start with software tools or tech processes, but we know their people are the key to making any transformation work. That’s why this survey – and the work the Mental Health Foundation is doing around Mental Health Awareness Week – is so important. It’s no exaggeration to say our employees are our most valuable assets, so the more we know about how to support them and encourage positive mental health and wellbeing in the UK work world, the better.”