60% of UK female employees report suffering from ‘severe anxiety’, over the last year

Study reveals women choose to avoid presenting ideas during meetings, public speaking responsibilities and leadership positions as a means of managing anxiety.


By Tom McLaughlin

New research into 150 UK companies has revealed a rise in employee anxiety. Two in five female employees have suffered  ‘severe anxiety’ over the last year as a direct impact of their work.

These findings do not come as a surprise. In the last 12 months, employees searching ‘social anxiety symptoms’ on Google as a means of self-diagnosis has increased by 28%. This aligns with a clear increase in personal and professional anxiety over the last three years.

Day to day, two in five female employees (41%) would avoid taking a leading role in company-wide meetings to avoid anxiety linked with public speaking. Meanwhile, almost a third of female employees (30%) attribute anxiety as their reason for not speaking up in team meetings.

As a result, female employees are seeing their long-term career goals affected. Over a quarter of women (29%) would turn down promotion to a management role requiring regular public speaking responsibilities, whilst one in three women (30%) refrain from asking for a raise due to anxiety.

What can employers do to help those dealing with anxiety? 

Over 80% of UK employees believe that their company does not provide ‘sufficient’ support for those dealing with anxiety. Furthermore, the study concludes that occurrences of severe anxiety are four times fewer in companies that provide regular and varied mental health support, confirming the need for widely available support. Other findings include:

  • More than a quarter of female employees believe that improving manager mental health training is crucial to supporting employees.
  • Nearly half of those surveyed request a more flexible approach to workload and responsibilities.
  • 22% of employers fail to provide clear mentorship for career progression while managing anxiety.

Sue Andrews, HR & Business Consultant at KIS Finance and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says: 

For many women anxiety can have a devastating impact on their career, and means that they miss out on opportunities for progression. If you lack the confidence to put yourself out there and take a more visible role, then others won’t have the chance to see what you are capable of and recognise your potential.

Companies need to recognise the anxiety that women, in particular, can feel when it comes to presenting or speaking at conferences, and provide appropriate training to help them prepare to take their next career step.

These types of skills are just as important as having the right technical knowledge and experience. Failing to invest in coaching and support to prepare women for progression means that organisations are losing out on talent, which will otherwise go untapped.”

On public speaking-related anxiety in leadership roles, Tom McLaughlin, public speaking expert and Director at conference speaker agency JLA, says:

Public speaking can be a daunting task. The importance of proper preparation and rehearsal cannot be overstated. With regular practice, you will naturally gain confidence in your speaking ability, and combat anxiety.

As obvious as it may seem, don’t forget to breathe. Developing an awareness of your breathing calms your nerves, and understanding the physical changes you can make to affect your nervousness is vital in controlling your anxiety.

You will also be infinitely more confident in your delivery when able to recall your speech from memory with ease, allowing you to focus on your delivery rather than remembering lines.”

About the author.

Tom McLaughlin is the owner and co-founder of keynote speaker bureau JLA. A specialist agency that books speakers, presenters and performers for corporate and public sector client events.

Find more tips on how to manage stress and your wellbeing here.

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