Anxiety and Depression in the Workplace

Executive summary

The workplace environment is faced with the challenge of ensuring high productivity and performance levels in the employees amidst the growing cases of depression and anxiety. Managers are, therefore, left to handle this challenge of addressing anxiety and depression in the workplace. Adrien (2006) describes depression as a common cold that affects the human mentality. However, depression is an illness that affects human thoughts, moods, and the body as well. A healthy mental nature in the workplace is linked to productivity and good performance since it helps individuals handle work demands well. Success in the workplace requires that all employees make their contribution by meeting their work demands. Managers, therefore, cannot choose to remain oblivious to workers who cannot meet their work demands because of depression and anxiety. This paper looks at the issues of anxiety and depression in the workplace with the focus on causes and ways of dealing with it as part of daily management exercise. There is good news for managers since most cases of depression can be successfully treated.

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Main definitions

Anxiety is defined as a physiological and psychological state characterized by behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and somatic components. In the context of the workplace, anxiety occurs when workers expect stressful situations. A certain level of anxiety in employees has been described by Becker and Gehart (2000) to be good since it helps employees to work with more intensity and prepare thoroughly. However, different workers have different temperament levels, which would cause them to handle situations differently. This, therefore, means that people have varying degrees of anxiety.

Depression is defined as a state where an individual goes through aversion, a feeling of unhappiness, misery, and sadness. The low mood of activities has the potential to affect an individual’s mindset, attitude, and thoughts. In the context of a workplace, depression has been described by (Bygren 2004) to be a serious illness among employees. Even though it is common to feel moody, sometimes, the emotions are not supposed to intensify or persist for a long time. Nearly all workers will experience the condition at one point in their lives.

Signs of depression and anxiety in the workplace

Depression does not occur at once. The symptoms develop over a long period of time. Ideally, employees would first begin by experiencing anxiety and stress for a period of time before the situation aggravates to become depression. Age can also be a critical factor that employers have to consider. Workers aged between 25 and 40 years are most likely to develop symptoms of depression. However, in most cases, managers will detect depression in the workplace by noticing changes in behavior and employee performance. Main indicators may include inconsistent productivity, absenteeism, and lateness to work, the existence of errors in work, frequent complaints about tiredness, low work interest, procrastination, withdrawal from colleagues, and sluggishness in movement, thoughts, and actions.

Causes of depression and anxiety in the workplace

As earlier mentioned, depression is mainly caused by factors such as anxiety and stress. Extreme cases of the two situations lead to depression. In a workplace characterized by conditions beyond people’s control and unclear expectation, accountability, authority, responsibilities, and roles, cases of frustration, employee disengagement, stress, anxiety, and poor communication anxiety can arise. Workers generally become stress and anxious whenever they are overworked, random experience interruptions, when they are in doubt, lack confidence in the management, when they are not appreciated, and when communication is only one way (that is, top-down communication).

When employees fear to freely speak their minds in an organization, then there is a problem, and most likely, they would fail to give their all or work within their full potential. Employers and managers, on many occasions, find themselves only accepting good news from their employees. They hear only what is pleasing to their ears. In some firms, the communication systems are structured one way, implying that the leaders are the only ones expected to communicate to employees, and there is no system for feedback or complaints from workers to the leaders. This situation creates unnecessary anxiety and stress in employees, causing them not to be productive.

Managers and business leaders usually have laid down expectations for each of their employees. They impose targets upon workers and expect results. However, the problem comes when they fail to avail themselves to offer support to employees so that they achieve the set targets. In most cases, leaders fail to realize that they also have a coaching role to play. Coaching employees helps them to make use of untapped skills hence bringing the best out of them. Sometimes workers fail to have confidence in their work because of a lack of support and doing things without certainty. Consequently, employees become anxious and stressed. Persistence of anxiety and stress tends to lead to depression.

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With regard to the lack of appreciation, employees need to know every effort they put towards the achievement of an organization’s goals and objectives is appreciated. They also need to know that their hard work can be reinforced positively through rewards. However, managers sometimes fail to appreciate the effort of their employees, which leads them to be stressed. Verbal appreciation of workers is something that should always be part of the talk of managers towards their employees. This can be extended further to rewards achievement, loyalty, and good conduct. Employees can take the individual initiative by going out of their way to give their best. However, once they develop a feeling that their effort is going unappreciated, then they fail to be inclined towards work.

Everyone anticipates progress in a career. Lack of chances of progress and development is another root cause of low worker motivation or employee morale. Generally, life is always in a progressive state where one begins at a lower level and moves up the ladder to higher levels. Stagnation at one level would create a life without the intended morale or motivation. The same principle also applies to organizations and the workplace. Employees intend to further their career and experience in the areas of expertise. Prospects for this need have got to be availed. If an organization provides limited opportunities for employees to further their career, then chances are high that the workforce of that organization would lose the intended morale. But on the contrary, if an organization has unlimited career prospects for its employees then this would retain morale within its work force. Therefore, issues such as outside recruitment can harm morale of employees especially if the employees have been hard working and loyal to the organization. Favoritism in the form racial, ethnic, friendship, family, or religious are also a means in which employees can be blocked from making progress in their career.

Employees do not like to be overloaded with work beyond a level that they cannot handle. Heavy workload is therefore another issue that contributes to low employee morale. Hard work is not measured by overloading employees. When managers give workers tasks that they are unable to control or manage, most likely the workers would make superficial effort on the tasks and fail to do a good job. A heavy workload also makes employees develop negative attitudes towards work which is very harmful to organizational performance.

Employee engagement as a management concept refers to employees being fully involved in their work, displaying enthusiasm, and acting towards achievement of organizational goals. Disengaged employees therefore would display lack of motivation towards work. Disengaged employees have negative emotional attachment towards their colleagues, and towards work (McLean, Osman-Gani and Cho 2004). This makes them exhibit unwillingness towards exemplary work performance and towards learning. Organizational behavior or corporate culture is influenced by employee morale as well as other factors. Low employee morale however, is very costly to an organization. It is described as the fuel that breeds issues such as absenteeism, poor performance, and workers discontent. Anxiety resulting from employee disengagement is very costly to both organizations and the economy of a region (Regani 2005).

It is one thing to recruit the best people to fill certain positions however; it is another thing to ensure that they are at their best. The point of bringing out the best out of workers is the biggest failure of many organizations hence resulting to employee disengagement (Schieman, McBrier and Gundy 2003). According to research findings by the Gallup organization the number of disengaged employees in America only is over 20 million. This group costs the economy more than 300 billion dollars because of their unproductive nature. The main reasons for disengagement according to the findings are absenteeism, illness, and discontentment among the workforce (Staw, Sutton and Pelled 2002).

Unscheduled absenteeism is particular very costly to many employers since they have to deal with payroll cost even as the employees are absent (Tarique and Schuler 2008). Besides the payroll cost, organizations find themselves unable to meet their targets because employees are not productive. A lot of resources and time is usually spent on recruiting these employees but no effort done to ensure that they are motivated to work and their productivity level increased. Sometimes the highly talented individuals are kept idling. Failure of managers to be aware of the morale level of their employees is worsening the situation (Warren and Johnson 1995). Managers may sometimes be focused on demanding results and fail to realize lack of morale from their workforce. Anxiety can easily spread and affect the entire work force. This renders it something that needs not be ignored especially by managers. Once indicators begin to emerge, then actions have to be taken to counter it.

Dealing with anxiety and depression in the workplace

Role of the organization/ management

In dealing with the challenge of depressed and anxious workforce, management has to take a leading role in ensuring that employees do not encounter situations that would cause them to be depressed or anxious (McLean, Osman-Gani and Cho 2004). There are several approaches that have been suggested by scholars to address the issues of depression and anxiety in the workplace (Liff 2000).

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When employees are able to identify symptoms of stress and anxiety at its early age, chances of the problem escalating are very low (Kelly 2001). Similarly, when the staff is educated about handling stress at work, chances of the problem aggravating are very low. Training and education is not only aimed at employees but also the management. It is important for managers to have the skill of identifying anxiety and stress in their employees and teams (Horwitz 2010). This will enable them to intervene when needed and avert the situation before it grows any worse. Crouter and Manke (1994) say that up skilling managers for such a task increases employee engagement, motivates workers, and improves overall performance.

Training of management to detect cases of anxiety and stress in employee has been dubbed by (Chew and Sharma 2006) as a critical first step to dealing with the problem. The findings of a study conducted by (Coffman 2002) indicated that instances of employee depression are reduced when managers are trained to avoid certain practices in the workplace. This includes:

  • Setting unrealistic deadlines that cannot be accomplished within a specified time
  • Assigning complex work to employees with failure of guidance
  • Assigning employee monotonous and routine work only
  • Situations where managers are considered non supportive and unfair towards employees
  • Situation where managers fail to appreciate and praise efforts made by their employees

The stressors therefore can be avoided if only managers are skilled to identify and prevent the above listed practices. In setting, goals managers are required to be realistic in terms of deadline and the nature of goals. They need to feel that the work stretches and causes them to be competent (Harter, Schmidt and Corey 2006).

Employees are considered a valuable asset and the driving force for the operations of businesses. Their motivation and morale to be highly productive is crucial and a top priority for human resource managers (Elwood, W. and Trott 1996). Low employee morale has proved to be very costly and contributes to deviation from an organization’s strategic goals achievement

In today’s organizations, fostering employee morale is a top priority for managers especially in the human resource department. Managers need to focus on ensuring that the attitude and confidence of their employees remains positive throughout their period of employment (Duffy, Ganster and Pagon 2002). Employees need to have positive attitude towards their work for the morale to be boosted and maintained at high levels. The fundamental emphasis by managers should be on addressing the needs of their workers. Once this is achieved then workers will not have a feeling of wanting to leave since their important needs are met at their place of work (Delery 1998).

Employees need to feel appreciated for their effort towards meeting the interests of their organization (Crouter and Manke 1994). Apart from the necessary expertise that employees bring to an organization, creating an environment where their work output morale is boosted is important for the achievement of the overall goals and objectives of the organization. Therefore increasing employee morale revolves around emphasizing on certain essential soft skills such as effective communication, proper team work, and good leadership (Harter, Schmidt and Corey 2006).

Creating relationships that are built on trust is important in sustaining employee morale. The relationship between managers and their workers needs to be based entirely on trust. Employees need to feel that management values them for their effort towards work rather than exploiting them (Colella 2001). Even when management decides to recognize its employees, with lack of trust the employees would definitely feel that such a move is a mere manipulation by management to take advantage of them. This causes employees to lose interest and be disengaged (Coffman 2002). Developing relationships based on trust is a continuous effort that needs to form part of the daily interaction between managers and workers. Trust is also based on communication. Communication is expected to flow both downwards and upwards. Employees need to freely speak their minds with managers in the same way managers speak to employees (Chew and Sharma 2006).

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Respect yields attributes such as alertness, innovation, creativity and productivity among employees. It highly recommended that managers show maximum respect to employees in order to build such qualities in them. Despite coaching employees and offering them support, managers also need to clearly define what they expect from each employee and avoiding management at micro level. It is possible to get quality results while making minimum time investment from each of the employee. Failure should be expected occasionally and employees need to work without the fear of failing. In such a situation, employees can easily realize their failures and make effort to correct them so that they do not repeat the same mistakes (Bygren 2004).

Coaching and nurturing employees is third solution recommended to managers. Sometimes employees can be faced with work related situations which they do not know how to handle. Managers should be willing to offer support to employees without having to disgrace them (Berman, West and Maurice N. Richter 2002). Even the managers and leaders of organizations usually have coaches to guide them in with their role as leaders. Ideas suggested by employees need not be overruled or placed aside. It is important for managers to respect every idea and see how the ideas could be used for the benefit of the organization. In this way, creativity and innovation can be nurtured (Becker and Gehart 2000).

Lastly, team building can help improve the overall morale of employees. Sometimes it may be costly and time consuming to focus on individual morale boosting. Team building would help build the spirit of the entire workforce at once. Team building creates trust and removes vulnerability. It clears out fear and creates a sense of harmony within employees (Adrien 2006). Employees are also able to be more committed to their work because of the effect of building strong teams. Employee performance and reward management can also be done on teams to foster a sense of competition. In this way, employees will always be working to support their teams and competing towards achieving their set target.


From the discussion, human resource issues such as low employee morale are very costly to organizations and should therefore be a priority to managers. Employees are considered a valuable asset and the driving force for the operations of businesses. Their motivation and morale to be highly productive is crucial and a top priority for human resource managers. Anxiety and depression has proved to be very costly and contributes to deviation from an organization’s strategic goals achievement. Depression is mainly caused by factors such as anxiety and stress. Extreme cases of the two situations lead to depression. In a work place characterized by conditions beyond people’s control and unclear expectation, accountability, authority, responsibilities and roles, cases of frustration, employee disengagement, stress, anxiety and poor communication anxiety can arise


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