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Emma O'Connor


As mental health awareness week draws to a close, Emma O’Connor, Legal Director, reflects on what the week should highlight for employers and gives advice on how they can create a positive working environment which is supportive and engaging.

This year’s mental health awareness week is focusing on anxiety. Everyone feels anxious at times.  It is a normal human emotion. Anxiety can impact us both physically and mentally; however, sometimes the physical and mental impact of anxiety can be so overwhelming and be a constant part of our daily lives that it can become a mental health issue. Many things can impact upon our feelings of anxiety both outside and inside of work. How can employers help to support their staff and promote a culture of awareness?

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Stress and Resilience Strategy

Back in January of 2020, I wrote about the business case for implementing a stress and resilience strategy and culture as part of your people management policies . The messaging has not changed.  Many of your colleagues will come to work bringing with them pressures from outside of work into the workplace. Many too may find work a place of anxiety be it their pay, their job security or issues with colleagues or clients. As employers, in particular managers, it is important to spot the signs (and spot them early) if someone is not ok at work. Are we robustly managing people’s holiday entitlement? Do we monitor working hours or sickness absence levels? If we manage issues early, it can, hopefully, avoid an individual going off on long term sickness absence, raising a complaint or even a claim.


How full is your “pint glass”?

We can all remember times in our own lives past and maybe present, when the “pint pot” was full, nearly full or spilling over; a time when work or home (or both) was the stressor. Throughout our lives, we move through a continual wave of feeling ok, moving up into anxiety and down into depression and that this is normal. However, feeling anxious can sometimes feel like we are moving on autopilot.

However, it is important that we remember to put our own life jackets on first.  If our management team are not engaged or are anxious, they cannot support, engage or motivate their teams or colleagues.  We must manage our own anxieties before we can help those in our teams or other colleagues.


Being Anxiety Aware

Good work is good for us. How can businesses support this? Workload, hours, pay, job security, promotions are all high level and strategic concerns. What about the day to day things managers and businesses can do as well?


From my experience, most issues arise because there is a communication disconnect.  How clearly do managers and the wider business communicate with their staff?



People feel anxious, often, when they feel out of control so making sure there is clear messaging and expectations around roles, responsibilities, future plans and prospects is key to this.  Also, we can only control what we can control – this sounds glib, but it is true.  We need deadlines, but be flexible where you can and if a deadline is not going to meet, deal with this early and make new plans.



Give people autonomy to make and own their decisions.



Sometimes managers have to have courageous conversations with their people. This can cause anxiety for managers but maybe, the issue which you are putting off discussing is the thing that is causing someone else anxiety.


Switch off 

Rest breaks are a good thing, presenteeism (at work or remotely) is not.  Encourage a culture where it is ok to go for a walk or sit in the garden and sending emails at 3am is not what you want. Managers should exhibit role modelling behaviours as well. Our instant messaging age is fantastic; but are we too quick to fire off an email – stop, pause, and preferably re-read an email to make sure your tone and message is what you want to convey.


Know your people

When is someone just having an off day or when is something more serious? Building high trust worth relationships can help in that if someone trusts you, they are more likely to come forward and talk to you. This is also important when we think about making reasonable adjustments if someone has a mental impairment under the Equality Act 2010.  ACAs has also produced new guidance regarding making reasonable adjustments.



When did you do something at work which was kind? When did someone say “thank you”? It is ok to have fun, to enjoy work and who you work with.  Happy people make a happy business.


We run stress and anxiety awareness courses for managers and wider employee populations either in person or as pre-recorded E-learning sessions. To find out more about the topics covered in this article please contact Emma O’Connor at [email protected]

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.


Get in touch

If you have any questions relating to this article or have any legal disputes you would like to discuss, please contact the Employment team on

[email protected]
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