The five things that spook staff in their professional lives

stressed woman wearing black with her head in her hands

Article by Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage

Stress at work is sadly commonplace. In fact, recent statistics reveal that stress is the top reason for sick days.

Many of us rely on our jobs to pay the bills and put food on the table, so it’s natural to feel anxiety about job security, especially right now. Without a doubt, staff anxiety has been heightened by the pandemic and collective uncertainty, so managers will need to be on hand to support their staff through this.

As Halloween approaches this year, and people resign themselves to having more subdued celebrations than before – maybe just a few jack-o-lanterns and a ghoulish boxset – it’s a chance to reflect on some of the biggest workplace fears and how management can help mitigate them.

Failure is okay!

Humans are not perfect, which means that we all make mistakes. This might mean targets aren’t always met, work doesn’t always fit the brief, and clients sometimes feel disgruntled. It’s all par for the course. But, looking back, it’s often the hiccups – a bad grade in an exam, not getting through a job interview – that motivates a person to try harder.

It’s actually the reaction of others that can cause people to lose hope or give up. As a result, if managers react to failure with anger or frustration, it’ll only encourage team members to avoid taking any risks. In reality, failure often indicates a person has been brave and tried their best, even if things didn’t work out as planned. Of course, consistent failures or missed targets will be a cause for concern, but it’s important to foster a company culture where workers don’t live in fear of not getting it quite right the first time.

Slacking on the job

Homeworking has been the ‘done thing’ for many sectors during COVID-19. Many workers can’t even remember the last time they commuted to work, and most meetings are now conducted virtually.

It’s no secret that some managers have worried about how this might affect productivity. It’s fair to say that the home office is likely to be littered with distractions – and not optimised for work in the same way as a big open plan office space. Plus, there are children, animals and noisy postmen to contend with. However, the stats tell a different story – workers feel more productive.

Being perceived as slacking on the job whilst working at home is still a major source of fear for many though. This can result in an unhealthy cycle where people avoid taking breaks and often work extra hours to prove they’re not just sitting around doing nothing. For obvious reasons, this will not only have a negative impact on employees’ mental wellbeing, but will also hurt productivity in the long run, since the team will quickly get burnt out. It’s therefore a top priority that managers encourage employees to take time out if needed and dissuade them from working excessive overtime.


In the post-pandemic world, it’s not only burnout lurking in the shadows and haunting us. Coronavirus has been a profoundly lonely experience for many and it’s natural to feel afraid and isolated when we’re spending so much of our time indoors and being bombarded with frightening headlines every day.

As winter nears and further restrictions are announced, we’re likely to be spending even more time indoors than before. This will mean cabin fever and crankiness – which are classic symptoms of isolation. Managers will need to consider the toll that loneliness can take on the mental wellbeing of staff and themselves.

Many will be feeling down and anxious and it might be worth offering company support with this in mind. Employee Assistance Programmes are a great benefit when it comes to supporting staff through testing times. Some packages include 24/7 counselling, so the team know they can always access professional support if they need it.

Money, money, money

Money is often the elephant in the room. It’s become a taboo subject, especially in work settings. But as the economy judders, people might be particularly preoccupied with making ends meet right now. At the same time, many are worried about the security of their jobs and what tomorrow might bring.

The best way to offset staff concerns about money is to have open discussions on these subjects. Some employers provide support in this area by offering to arrange a meeting with an independent financial adviser, for example, or by pointing the team to resources that can help them invest their hard-earned money.

Others may want to offer an employee benefits scheme that includes discounts and other financial perks that help staff save more of their salary each month. This might mean vouchers, which can be used for the weekly shop, childcare or even little treats.

Saying ‘No!’

Many employees think that saying yes shows proactivity and enthusiasm, but some can become such ‘yes people’ that saying ‘no’ starts to become a source of angst. Constantly saying yes can result in frightening outcomes though, including an untenable workload, burnout, and work quality suffering.

Being assertive is a key part of being a good worker and is critical to moving up the career ladder, so it’s no surprise that team members will be keen to show their stellar work ethic – especially in these uncertain times. However, it’s important to make sure staff aren’t just saying yes to impress.

Many people suffer from anxiety at work and this will only be amplified by the frightening times we’re currently living through. Managers and HR therefore need to ensure that the team aren’t letting common workplace fears get the better of them. The office (virtual or not) shouldn’t be a house of horrors. It should be safe space, where managers and HR work together to create an atmosphere of calm combined with a support and benefits package that eases workplace stresses.

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