HR Management & Compliance

Social Anxiety and the Workplace: How to Help Employees

Chances are, you know someone who is dealing with social anxiety—millions of Americans deal with it in their everyday lives. If you don’t personally know someone who is managing this common condition, you’re probably working with someone who is.

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Before we continue on this topic, it should be noted that some mental health conditions qualify as disabilities and thus fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). In these situations, employers need to follow these regulations, including utilizing the interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations when necessary. (For more information on the types of reasonable accommodations that may be useful for employees with various types of mental illness, check out this article.)

That said, beyond reasonable accommodation, there is a lot employers can do to positively impact employees dealing with social anxiety. Here are some examples:

  • Be sure to communicate well with the entire team. This can show all employees they’re part of the group and appreciated.
  • Offer flexibility in hours or in work location when possible. This can allow employees to choose situations that are most comfortable for them. Consider whether there is flexibility in work deadlines, as well.
  • Offer an employee assistance program (EAP) for employees to utilize when they need help. Ensure that information about this program is communicated so that employees understand what it is for and how it can be used. (To learn more about EAPs, check out this article.)
  • Train managers. There are many ways training managers can help. For example:
    • Train managers to recognize social anxiety and to understand that some personality traits are highly associated with social anxiety—there may be behaviors that are a part of this condition. When addressing such behaviors, keep in mind there may be more to the story. For example, being easily overwhelmed, fearing new situations, or having difficulty meeting new people could be traits associated with social anxiety, but they could also be traits managers are looking to address. (These are, of course, just a few examples.)
    • Train managers about how their actions impact others. For example, unclear communication, changing expectations, or surprises can make some employees more anxious; micromanaging might make some people feel they’re not trusted; and asking employees to work during lunch can take away the time they use to recharge and reset. These are just a few examples of how certain behaviors can impact others, especially those with social anxiety. (Of course, this is not nearly a complete list.)
  • Consider being more open about mental health discussions in the workplace to reduce the stigma associated with them.
  • Create an office space that has privacy—or at least privacy options—built in. If employees work in communal spaces, some may still want to have some time away from others occasionally.
  • Offer some type of stress-reduction benefit at the worksite. For example, some employers offer either on-site massage therapists or discounts to similar local services, while others offer on-site fitness facilities or discounted gym memberships.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask employees what assistance they need, but be careful not to make assumptions.

It’s important to note that employers should not assume who may or may not be dealing with social anxiety. It’s not specific to any particular gender or social group, and it’s not going to be indicated by performance metrics. People who are managing social anxiety will handle it in their own way, which may vary from person to person. As such, don’t focus your attention on employees who are outwardly struggling with performance; help with social anxiety can be useful for many others who may not at first exhibit signs.

For more information on assisting employees with anxiety or depression, check out this article.

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments, including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.