Helping an employee with anxiety
How to help an employee struggling with anxiety as a small business owner

Anxiety is a prolonged and ongoing feeling of stress and worry. As the most common mental health condition in Australia most of us have probably felt anxious at some point – whether it was the excitement of a life event or the stress of a big project at work, anxiety is a normal human response. When anxiety symptoms remain present for a prolonged period of time, functioning in our day-to-day lives becomes difficult.

When running a small business, you may have experienced anxiety symptoms yourself or have an employee exhibiting similar symptoms. Employees struggling with anxiety may become disengaged in the workplace, have reduced productivity, and may even lose out on career advancement opportunities. As an employer, it is important to have procedures in place to support employee mental health.

If an employee at your business is struggling with anxiety symptoms here are a few steps you can take to help them cope.


How do I know if someone is struggling with anxiety?

Anxiety can manifest in different ways. While there are some signs that may help to identify an anxiety disorder, a formal diagnosis is required by a qualified health professional such as a general practitioner (GP) or a psychiatrist. The symptoms of anxiety may appear as more pronounced manifestations of stress. It’s important to not assume someone is suffering from an anxiety disorder but to contextualise the symptoms observed based on the individual and the situation as people display symptoms differently. To determine whether an employee is exhibiting anxiety symptoms (as opposed to general stress) consider first assessing the following:

  • Have there been any changes in behaviour or work habits?
  •  Have you noticed the employee withdrawing socially?
  • Do you notice them sweating, shaking or having shortness of breath at times (for example when they’re asked a question or asked to present something)?
  • Have there been emotional outbursts, sombreness or increased irritability?

Helping an employee who is struggling If you suspect that an employee is displaying the above behaviours, share your concerns with them, ask what support in the workplace would help them, and encourage them to speak to their GP. As an employer, there are some steps you can take to help them through it. Firstly, it helps to foster a culture where people feel comfortable to talk about their mental health without feeling judged. In creating this culture, the first steps for you as the employer can include:

  • Having an open-door policy where your employees feel like they can talk to you.
  • Being vulnerable – show your employees your human side by sharing something that might be causing you stress and this may prompt them to open up about their own struggles.
In addition to creating a mental health-friendly culture, there are also practical steps you can take to help employees struggling with stress and anxiety symptoms. Some of these include:
  • Offering flexibility – flexibility means something different to everyone, so ensure you take everyone’s perspective in account. Whether you provide flexibility around hours worked, or even adjust the roles to be performed, demonstrating you’re willing to help them through the matter can make an impact.
  • Offer mental health days – Taking sick days for mental health has become more common in recent years with many businesses allowing the practice. Consider whether allowing your employees time off may help them to unwind and help with their stress and anxiety symptoms.
  • Invest in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – EAP’s are work-based programs that give employees access to a range of wellbeing services, including confidential counselling. Having an EAP in place can demonstrate to your employees that you have a vested interest in their mental health and wellbeing by providing external ongoing support.



Few businesses can effectively support employee mental health and wellbeing without the assistance of a specialist provider. Aon has partnered with LifeWorks to provide an affordable counselling and support program to optimise mental, social, physical and financial wellbeing. LifeWorks can help to remove the barriers that prevent employees from seeking support, all at the click of a button.

With mobile phone-based technology, LifeWorks offers ongoing pro-active support, not just in times of crisis, so employees don’t hesitate to get help when they need it. Start supporting your employee’s mental health, while simultaneously protecting your business, today by visiting aon.com.au/lifeworks to find out more or download a brochure. If you believe you may be struggling with anxiety, or simply having a difficult time, please contact Lifeline or Beyond Blue.

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Aon has taken care in the production of this article and the information contained in it has been obtained from sources that Aon believes to be reliable. Aon does not make any representation as to the accuracy of the information received from third parties and is unable to accept liability for any loss incurred by anyone who relies on it. The recipient of this article is responsible for their use of it.