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Five Steps to Support Employees with Anxiety or Depression

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

- From One Who Has Been There

Investing in employee mental health and wellness programs may help your business move forward as the country returns to work. It may also save you money in the long term. But that doesn’t answer the question of what should you do to support or accommodate an employee with anxiety or depression?

Culled from my experience telling my boss about my anxiety, these are five ways businesses can start to support mental health for employees. Even with all the bells and whistles of an entire human resource department, you must consider the social-emotional impact on the manager and the employee.

I had reason to tell my boss at work that I was struggling. Surprisingly, she shared that she had a close family member with anxiety and panic attacks. What she described told me she knew a lot about what I was experiencing, which was a significant relief.

While her empathy and compassion were evident to me, I was unaware that she was keeping specific details of my work situation from me; what I can only assume was out of kindness that, in the end, hurt us both, at work and personally.

Why Should You Care About Anxiety and Depression in Your Employees?

A recent survey by Paychex found small businesses (2 to 99 employees) report one in every four workers are currently experiencing anxiety, depression, and mood challenges. Before the pandemic, it was one in every five workers, and it doesn’t look like it’s abating any time soon.

The prevalence of adults with a major depression or anxiety episode is highest among individuals between 18 and 25, according to And an article in The New York Times notes this age group is in now high demand by your business. And they are the most affected age group from emotional distress like anxiety and depression since 2020.

40% of employees have experienced mental health, performance, or attitude problems at work since the pandemic began, according to a Paychex study of 500 U.S. SMB Principals and employees — 250 each — at organizations with 2 to 99 employees surveyed in December 2020. Will your company be able to support this new generation coming into the workplace?

It’s Time to Consider the Culture We are Creating for all Our Employees

Businesses have had their hands full with challenges such as addressing workplace safety, keeping the company up and running for clients, recruiting reluctant employees, and following local and federal COVID guidelines.

Businesses also need a workforce that is steady, purposeful, and directed. Our Gen Z graduating seniors have spent the last two years in complete upheaval. Many just returned to classrooms for their final year and reported increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation.

Here are Five Steps to Support an Employee with Anxiety or Depression

Empathy. Your leaders need to have genuine empathy for an employee who comes to them with anxiety or depression.

Any mental health program must include specific training in empathy. Empathy is widely known to be teachable, and according to Forbes, “[it] acts as a glue between relations. A leader shares a very strong bond with his followers (employees), and like any other relationship, it requires empathy . . . it can also be great for the overall business.”

Honesty. It’s understandably difficult but necessary to tell your employee exactly what the company policy is for someone with emotional challenges, even if the policy seems unpleasant.

While it may seem difficult to tell your employee that their performance has suffered and they need to show improvement at the best of times, it’s harder still when you know they are already struggling. But withholding information because you are uncomfortable will backfire in the long run.

Clarity. Any current or changing expectations and any modifications should be specific and time bound.

You can help with anxiety levels if everything is in writing for the employee (this will please HR). Important dates and reminders of any reviews should all be written down rather than just discussed. If any deadlines are modified, you should also put them in writing to be on the same page.

Flexibility. Discuss areas where the company can be flexible. For example, breaks or time off may be helpful.

Flexible schedules, time for breaks, or even time off without guilt is an incredible gift that all employees should have. Providing flexible options with a simple policy is good for the entire business culture, not just those dealing with mental health challenges.

Resources. Invest in your employees.

Provide your employees with good health insurance and wellness options that support mental health. Find out from your Human Resources Department whether they have a referral program for services for those who need them or discounts on a gym membership.

Consider this from Ipek Williamson, Insight Coach and VP of Self-Forgiveness at Annie Leib, LLC.

“Employees are first and foremost human beings who have emotions. Smart leaders across the business spectrum see this and work to create an environment where they value the emotions of their people in the organization by cultivating a safe and happier workplace. If there is intent, genuine desire, and adequate funds to support it,” there are steps you can take now.

If you are a small business with fewer resources, even one or two action items from the five points above put you and your employees ahead of the curve.

Depression can begin at any age, and it can affect people of all races and across all socioeconomic statuses. See more on

Let’s keep each other happy at work!


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