How to deal with employees with anxiety?

We are all anxious from time to time but what happens when it starts to impact work?


Let’s call her Jennifer (a fiction name but a true story). She asked if we can have coffee one day and talk about something privately. When we met, she asked me “How do I make sure I don’t get fired?” . I was shocked. She is  a leading technical engineer, valued by all her peers and managers, and yet she has anxiety. 

Her anxiety effected how she responds to requests, how bold (or lack of) she was when asking her manager for a raise, a promo or even a vacation.
She felt she has to prove herself constantly and that others are much better than her.  She compared herself to others all the time.

Do you have an employee that comes to you with every question they have?  They need your “approval” for any step they make? Maybe when you assign them a new task, they are reluctant to take it as they might fail?
Or like Jennifer, they say YES to everything just to make sure they are not fired?

Photo by Carolina Heza on Unsplash

Understanding why

These employees might have anxiety.
The best way to deal with anxiety is to understand why they are anxious in the first place.

As a manager, that’s not always possible. People are reluctant to show vulnerability to their superiors as they fear that will hurt them. If there is trust in your relationship, try and ask them “What’s on your mind?”. Listen to them, listen to fears, to problems, and then be honest. Start with this phrase “It looks like you are ….” and describe how they seem like they are anxious. “What in this task makes you feel this way?”

Do not talk about them directly so they won’t feel judged or under a microscope. Talk about the task and what is required of them to complete it. Listen to what is NOT said, where the fear is and what exactly is its cause.

If you have a good relationship with them based on trust, that should create a meaningful coaching conversation with them.

Taking action

Whether you have built trust or not, one of the best actions that can be taken that will help our employees build confidence in their abilities is to use empowering praise over time.
People who are insecure and fearful (Ain’t we all in many areas of our life) need external praise to start believing in themselves and build inner self-confidence.


Empowering praise is praising an action they did.
For example: “I liked the way you organized the data. It helped in understanding the problem”.

We don’t praise them “Oh, you are wonderful” or “Great job Jennifer!” as they have no clue what specifically they did. When the praise is specific about an action or behavior, they can repeat the action and gain confidence.

Over time, Jennifer and I spoke about her fears. Using empowering praise I was able to demonstrate to her how her actions were valuable and what was the response of her peers and managers to them. Her confidence grew as her fears did not match reality. 

I invite you to build trust with your employees, to check “whats on your mind?” , to acknowledge their fears and to constantly use empowering praise.

Hope this helps


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