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  • Leigh Kester

#3 Anxiety, Burnout, and The Importance of Psychological Safety.

You will have seen or heard people talk about burnout, you may even have experienced it, but did you know what anxiety has to do with burnout and how it impacts men and women differently? Let’s explore this.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a fear or worry which can be minor or severe and it can affect people’s day to day life, this could prevent them from doing an activity, going out or even causing panic attacks. Everyone will experience being anxious it could be before starting a new job or before a big important meeting, it is very normal, however the extent of the symptoms may vary.

a cartoon person with head in hands whilst brainstorming of mental, behavioural and physical traits of anxiety and burnout

Is there a difference between men and women’s experience anxiety?

The mental health foundation report that in 2022/23 an average of 37.1% of women and 29.9% of men are experiencing high levels of anxiety with 58% percent of UK employees experiencing at least mild symptoms. However, these represent those who knowingly experience anxiety. One could argue that the statistics are misleading, due to the fact women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety because they are more likely to seek help from a professional. Men have more societal pressure to be strong and unimpeachable this means that they are more likely to not acknowledge how they’re feeling and self-medicate their anxiety rather than seek help. Similarly, women are statistically more likely to experience burnout than men according to McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2021 report. It is important and as leaders it is our responsibility, to create a psychologically safe environment that both men and women feel comfortable at work to say when they are starting to feel overloaded, overworked, and stressed, before being burnt out.

How are burnout and anxiety connected?

According to Mental health UK 85% of UK adults surveyed about the symptoms of burnout were able to successfully identify the symptoms, worryingly 68% of adults had mistaken the signs of burnout for anxiety. This is a common mistake due the similarities in the symptoms however, they are two separate forms, but due to the similar symptoms they can and do overlap and one can cause the other as they are often stimulated by the same environments and situations. For example, if an employee is experiencing burnout having symptoms of a cynical outlook and emotional exhaustion, they will likely become more anxious about their quality of work and are likely to be less productive because of this. Equally if an employee suffers from anxiety, they could be more prone to burnout due to emotional fatigue.

A person with head on desk implying they are coping with burnout, captions explain signs of burnout and anxiety

Importance in supporting employees with burnout and anxiety.

Unfortunately, both anxiety and burnout are often identified as ‘stress’ which can disregard the feeling and experience for the individual and mistakenly dismissed as not a priority to the company. However, both can ultimately lead to higher absenteeism and high employment turnover, which can affect the organisations employment reputation and the quality of service to provide to clients and customers.

Due to the impact to the employees and organisation, it is concerning that only 23% UK workers said their workplace had a plan in place to spot the signed of chronic stress and prevent burnout in employees. Being an inclusive employer is about acknowledging the individual rather than just their job role. Psychological safety in the workplace has a key role in this and aids building team cohesion, healthy work culture and productivity. So, it is important to have psychological safety in the workplace which supports open and honest conversations to help all employees including those who do suffer from anxiety and therefore likely to suffer from burnout. Not only is it beneficial to the individual to receive support from their management but it also benefits the company to support them and have processes in place to do so.

If as a leader, you notice an employee is slowing or showing signs of stress or burnout there are a few methods of approach you can choose to do, listed below are a small selection:

  • Be mindful of the language you use in our workplaces but also in social environments as well. Acknowledge that terms like ‘man up’ can hinder the mental health progress of men who are suppressing signs of anxiety and burnout among other mental health conditions, this minimalizes their experience and add the insinuation that a ‘man’ can’t be feeling a certain way.

  • Talk about mental health in your one-to-one meetings or have regular check ins.

  • Take steps to reduce negative workplace stress, have an open forum for support when an employee feels overwhelmed with their workload or have a time out space.

  • Have a service/process for support with wellbeing, this could be internal or external, this should be a safe space the employee can talk freely in without concern of repercussions.


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