So how do I deal with an employee with high anxiety? Particularly if I believe that anxiety is starting to negatively impact their work?
I have an employee I’m concerned about. Not a direct employee – I supervise the person who supervises this employee. Which makes it even trickier. My concerns are based on reports that I’m getting from this person’s manager. The employee’s anxiety has been a topic of concern since they were hired. We work with people diagnosed with serious mental illness who are often acutely sensitive to minor fluctuations in the moods and feelings of those around them. I think it is a type of survival mechanism many of our consumers develop – being aware of the moods of those around you can help you protect yourself (physically or emotionally). Our consumers are so vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. I once worked with a consumer who was so sensitive to the tone and inflection in my voice that he could predict when I was getting sick 1-2 days before I noticed any symptoms. He would call the office and about 30 seconds into the conversation would ask if I was feeling ok. Inevitably, within a couple of days, I would start feeling bad. But, I digress.
Back to where I was going before – our consumers know when staff are anxious and sensing anxiety in a staff member can be a trigger for a consumer’s anxiety. We need to do everything we can to ensure a calm atmosphere in our programs to help our consumers maintain their recovery.
This employee experiences a high amount of anxiety. They express fear on a near-constant basis that something they did during his shift will result in them being fired. The employee has been with us for less than 6 months, so naturally there have been mistakes as they were becoming more familiar with our agency policies and procedures. This is expected as someone is learning a new job and hasn’t been a big deal. Frankly, compared to many other new employees, this person’s mistakes have been minor and infrequent.
However, whenever the supervisor brings up a mistake and talks about the way to do things differently in the future, this employee almost has a panic attack. They sweat profusely, their body shakes, and they have trouble talking. The supervisor has tried to be as sensitive as possible to this anxiety but we’re starting to feel that it impairs the employee’s ability to make solid decisions. The fear of losing their job has resulted in the employee sharing important information with his co-workers but not bringing it to his supervisor (out of fear he will get in trouble). This has resulted in an uncomfortable situation between the employee, their co-workers (who of course tell the supervisor when it is a concern about one of the consumers), and the program supervisor. It’s feels like a super-awkward game of telephone. It’s not healthy for the staff dynamics in the home.
So, my dilemma is this, at what point is this anxiety too much for our program? The employee has shared that they take medication for panic attacks so it sounds like they are getting treatment from somebody. As an agency we want to be understanding of someone’s symptoms and support them in getting symptom relief/learning to cope with them. I want to give this employee the opportunity to get their anxiety under control. We’re a pretty relaxed and tolerant program. We give our staff lots of feedback and opportunity to address any performance concerns. In addition, I understand what anxiety is like and I know sometimes it makes it hard for me to do everything I need to do at my job. Heck, at this point I have anxiety about THEIR anxiety which is making it difficult for me to focus on other aspects of my job. The program supervisor is working on getting the team on the same page and trying to reassure this anxious staff that their job is not in jeopardy (yet).
This employee has some important strengths and I think they could do well in our agency. But, if this anxiety continues to negatively impact other staff or we see if impact our consumers, then we will eventually need to let them go. Which will make me feel like a hypocrite. An unfeeling, unsympathetic hypocrite.
What would you do in this situation? Would love to hear some advice on this one.