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A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health reported that over 40 million Americans are dealing with some form of an anxiety disorder. With over 18 percent of the U.S. population having been diagnosed with anxiety, a large majority have cited their workplace as a major contributor.
Anxiety is the most common form of mental illness in the country. Most people can identify with being stressed or having felt anxious at some point based on certain life events — a new job, moving to a new state or giving a big presentation. However, it’s important to note the differentiating factors between healthy levels of stress, and having more severe, chronic anxiety. This can infringe on an individual's ability to carry out even the most basic, everyday responsibilities.
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Just the thought of anxiety can make it difficult for some people to get through their day. The fear associated with having an anxiety or panic attack is generally enough to bring on an attack. There’s a perpetual cycle of worrying that often accompanies anxiety and makes individuals feel inadequate and unable to control their thoughts or behaviors, despite knowing their thoughts are irrational and often worse than the situation warrants.
As someone who has managed a severe anxiety disorder for over 15 years, I can identify with the difficulties that chronic anxiety can present on a daily basis. Fatigue, sleep deprivation, difficulty focusing, heart palpitations and trouble breathing are all common symptoms associated with chronic anxiety.
My disorder forced me to drop out of college on three separate occasions, and was the catalyst for me having to close my first business.
Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the owner of a small retail business, chances are one or more of your employees are suffering silently, and it could be costing you and your business a fortune.
Related: You Could Be Having a Digital Mental Health Crisis Without Even Realizing It
1. Poor performance
High levels of emotional and psychological exhaustion as a result of workplace anxiety, can lead to lack of focus and poor work performance. Fifty-six percent of people who experience workplace anxiety report excessive fatigue, irritability and feeling unmotivated. If left untreated your employees will eventually need more time to complete their tasks, minimizing the amount of work they can adequately accomplish in a typical work day. This averages up to 7 hours per week in lost productivity.
Providing your employees with an environment of empathetic supervisors and co-workers can lead to better quality relationships within the workplace, which can positively impact the effects of your employees anxiety.
2. Excessive time off
Employee absenteeism and sick leave are all common business expenses. However, studies have shown that anxiety and depressive disorders are associated with increasing long-term work disability in comparison to other illnesses. It is reported that one in three absences are a direct result of anxiety and/or stress in the workplace. Please note, it is illegal to terminate an employee based on their disability or disorder without proper efforts to reasonably accommodate your employee's condition.
Although many businesses provide PTO and sick leave, the long-term effects of too much time off can negatively impact your employees performance (see No. 1) and your business's bottom line.
Related: Managing Your Mental Health as an Entrepreneur
3. Increased healthcare costs
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion annually, and those diagnosed are three to five times more likely to visit the doctor and more than six times more likely to be hospitalized as a result. With more than 40 percent of a company’s earnings going to rising healthcare costs, your company could expect to pay upwards of $3,000 more per employee based on their anxiety alone.
4. Increased turnover
Change is inevitable, but can also be very expensive for your business. Employee turnover is a large contributor to your company’s bottom line, as it costs time, money and productivity to replace an employee. With over 25 percent of employees reporting that their workplace is a major contributor to their stress and anxiety, the likelihood of your employees staying at their job long-term decreases significantly.
Stress and anxiety are often associated with more health complaints than any other complaint related to the workplace. Ensuring your employees feel supported and comfortable addressing their mental wellbeing with managers and co-workers is essential in increasing employee retention.
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5. Low employee morale
Morale is a state of mind that affects confidence, productivity and enthusiasm created within the framework of a company’s structure. These factors also directly contribute to the four things I mentioned above. High morale is essential to a company’s success, and although it’s generally looked at as an intangible quality, it can have a damaging effect on a business's profits.
Low morale in employees can often lead to withdrawn efforts and the development of counterproductive behaviors. Many anxiety sufferers report feeling judged and unsupported by their managers and co-workers, which only decreases morale and increases their wanting to find a new job. Encouraging open dialog between employees and managers as it pertains to the mental health of your employees can prevent their issues from being exacerbated.
When employees feel their employer is genuinely interested in their well-being, there tends to be an increase in productivity and retention, and lowers the company’s expenses in recruiting costs and healthcare.
As a business owner, it’s important to be informed, know the signs and provide your employees with the encouragement and support they need to manage their mental health. Corporate wellness programs are becoming increasingly popular and are specifically geared toward helping companies improve in all areas listed above.
Let’s continue working to improve the culture of corporate America, and learn to take care of each other in and outside of the workplace.