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Meet Edward – The Real Costs of Anxiety in the Workplace

Health Wellness Success Stories

There’s no “I” in “team”, they say.

But you know where there is an “I”? In “illness”; in “anxiety”; in “isolation”. And “hidden”.

Anxiety and other stress-based mental illnesses affect 1 in 5 Canadians. Often called a “hidden disability”, anxiety is manifested by panic attacks, sleep issues, dizziness, and even heart palpitations or shortness of breath. Like any mental illness, it can be difficult to diagnose, and difficult to differentiate from the normal levels of anxiety that affect everyone. It’s a real and debilitating disorder, but its unseen nature means it’s not always acknowledged by those around us.

Lost Productivity

Acknowledged or not, anxiety can have a real cost on employee productivity. A 2016 Conference Board of Canada report concluded that anxiety issues among working adults accounted for $17.3 billion of lost productivity per year. This loss of productivity is the result of employees missing work, but also due to “presenteeism” – when an employee is physically present, but less capable of performing their duties.

It’s true that awareness around mental health issues is improving. Nearly half of Canadians reported in 2017 that they felt more comfortable discussing mental health issues, and 96% of Canadians stated that they considered mental health was as important as, or more important than, physical health. Yet despite this increased awareness, anxiety sufferers are often afraid of disclosing their condition to bosses and colleagues, worrying that coworkers will treat them differently. This stigma can lead to even more anxiety, creating a vicious cycle that can exacerbate the condition.

Case: Marion

Such was the case for Marion. She had suffered anxiety for years, causing her to miss work on several occasions, and even costing her jobs and promotions over the years. Finally, she worked up the courage to disclose to her boss, Edward Zhang, who granted her a paid leave of absence for her disability.

“I thought I was being sensitive to her condition,” said Zhang. “I researched her condition and tried to make it clear that I was understanding of her needs.”

But when Marion returned to work, Zhang noticed a change in the staff. “Team members seemed to be avoiding her,” he said, “and there were more than a few who were dismissive – the attitude of ‘Why doesn’t she just get over it?’ Not only did this anger me, it also sent Marion into a panic attack in the first week back to work.”

Finding the Solution

At a loss for how to help, Zhang consulted the employee benefit package to see if there was any additional support for Marion. He found Health Navigator, a health management service that was value-added to the benefits package, and called them personally. A health information specialist went beyond Marion’s condition, providing Zhang with advice and techniques for how to help educate his staff to be more supportive. Zhang was able to spearhead a movement to increase sensitivity in the office and create a supportive and understanding space for Marion when she returned to work. The staff expressed appreciation for the awareness training, including two additional employees who felt comfortable enough to disclose their own conditions.

Helping the Team

“I called them thinking I could help Marion,” said Zhang, “but I wound up helping the whole staff. We became part of Marion’s health care team – and each other’s.”

Maybe there’s no “I” in “team”, but there certainly is a “we” in “wellness”.


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