Talking to Your Boss About Work Anxiety

By: Josie Steffey
Jun 25, 2021 • 6 min read

Talking to Your Boss About Work Anxiety

It’s no secret that there is a negative stigma around mental health in the workplace. If you’re like most employees, you may feel like your job is in danger if you speak up about work anxiety and how it’s affecting you. According to Business Insider, thirty percent of employees seem to nurse an unspoken fear of being fired, furloughed, or passed up for a promotion if they discuss pandemic-related anxiety with their boss.

This is concerning for many reasons, both at a personal and professional level. Discussing mental health struggles related to the workplace can feel like a daunting task and can prove to be even more intimidating when it is with a superior. A conversation about work anxiety doesn’t have to leave you shaking in your shoes, though! Here are five tips to keep in mind before you sit down with your boss to discuss your concerns.

work anxiety

Know Your Needs

A conversation about work anxiety will do little good if there is no end goal or a resolution to the problem. Before you go to your boss, consider making a list of accommodations that will help ease your anxiety or make the workplace more comfortable for you. These needs may include:

  • Reduced hours, temporary or long-term
  • Time off, paid or unpaid
  • A more flexible schedule
  • Ability to work remotely
  • Reduced workload or changed job tasks
  • Improved accessibility in work areas

The majority of employers would generally consider these examples as reasonable accommodations.

Of course, you don’t have to have it all figured out. However, it is a good idea to know what you expect to gain from the conversation ahead of time. Both you and your employer are most likely taking valuable time out of the day to sit down and discuss this. So, it is only fair to evaluate your needs prior to the conversation. You can still work with your boss to figure out what will be best for both parties moving forward if you are unsure of reasonable accommodations; just make sure to be clear with what you believe is attributing to your anxiety. This way, your boss will be able to understand more effectively how to help you.

Communicate Clearly

They say, “communication is key,” and the workplace is no exception! Let’s break down the specifics.

Communicate A Time and Place

In order to set yourself up for success, find an appropriate time and place that you can speak one-on-one with your boss about your work anxiety. Mentioning mental health struggles in passing or during an undesignated time prevents both parties from being able to wholly understand and focus on the situation, free from distractions or time constraints. In addition, it may come off as less important than it really is or even as a passive complaint about your job. Your work anxiety deserves to be fully heard. So, make sure to communicate a time and place that both of you can be fully present for.

State Your Case

Once there is an agreed-upon time and place, be aware of how you present your case. Be honest, but also remember that you do not have to disclose your full medical history–keep it genuine but concise. Start out by stating that you have been struggling with work anxiety, then explain what is contributing to it. A family matter, decline in physical health, workplace change, increased workload, jam-packed schedule, or inability to meet demands due to stress could be a few examples of causes for work anxiety. Especially with the turn of events in the last couple of years, the pandemic could be a cause for increased anxiety, too.

After disclosing your work anxiety and your presumed reasons, mention how this affects your job performance briefly. Most employees affected by work anxiety find it hard to focus and remember things, complete tasks, manage emotions and stay motivated to do an adequate job. This may be true for you, too.

Finally, know your needs and voice them. Allow for your boss to give their feedback, as well, and come to an agreement together. They may know of accommodations that you do not, so give them a chance to help you. Also, expect them to ask for a note from your doctor or therapist. This is necessary for getting accommodations for your specific needs and is not against your rights or confidentiality.

work anxiety


After following these tips for communicating clearly and directly about your work anxiety, your initial statement of concern may sound something like this:

“I have been struggling with a lot of anxiety at work lately because of the increased workload after some coworkers quit. Their duties are becoming my responsibility, and it is too much for me to handle. I would like to request some changes to my schedule or ask that we redefine my expected job role.”

“I’ve noticed that it is hard for me to concentrate and remember the data that I need to, which leads me to believe that I have work anxiety. I’ve had a recent loss in my family, and I believe that this is the reason that I cannot perform as well as I would like to. I would like to request some time off to grieve and seek counseling.”

“I have had anxiety when I come into work for the last few weeks. My schedule is becoming busier as I am going back to school and raising a family, so I can only assume that this is the cause of my increased stress levels. Is there any way I could reduce my hours or change my schedule to fit these needs? Are there any accommodations for students or parents?”

Breathe! Your employer is a human, too. They most likely have had a friend, colleague, or family member go through a similar struggle. In fact, they might have even personally experienced the same issue that you are facing! Your boss will appreciate your honesty and candidness.

By the end of your dialogue, both you and your employer should have a clear understanding of what is causing the struggle, how it is affecting your work, and what accommodations are necessary to implement.

Approach Human Resources

If you don’t have a comfortable or positive relationship with your boss, consider bringing your concerns to Human Resources (HR). They are equipped to handle these issues, as well, and can be a helpful facilitator between you and your supervisor, if needed. Keep in mind that you can utilize the same strategies used in a conversation with your boss when speaking to HR, too.

work anxiety

Remember That You’re Protected

If you are experiencing work anxiety and it is a diagnosable disorder, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, each request must be considered on a case-by-case basis. In order to do so, the employee must disclose the disability. Employers are only allowed to accommodate disabilities that they are made aware of. There must be an interactive dialogue between employee and employer or HR, with the intention of coming to an agreement. Note that an employee that discloses a disability without discussing how it affects their work is not an employee that qualifies for reasonable accommodation.

All participants in the disclosure discussion must agree to maintain confidentiality and only share with others on a need-to-know basis. Superiors can notify employees of any changes to the workplace environment or job roles but cannot explain the reason why.

In summation, if you are an employee with a disorder that prevents you from performing necessary job functions, you are entitled to:

  • Interactive dialogue with a superior to disclose your disability
  • Continued communication regarding your disability
  • Confidentiality
  • Equal employment opportunities
  • Consideration for reasonable accommodations
  • Implementation of reasonable accommodations after coming to an agreement with employer or HR

Know your rights and know that you are protected as you disclose work anxiety to your employer!

Understand When It’s Time to Leave

Unfortunately (and hopefully this isn’t your predicament!), employers or coworkers may have a negative stigma about mental health. Instead of making life easier, it may make being at work more difficult once you disclose this information. If HR or another employee assistance program is not an option or does not help in attaining further accommodations, it may be time to leave. These may be some exit signs after you exhaust all avenues for seeking help:

  • You are not valued as an employee. This may look like a superior refusing to accommodate you, failing to speak any further about your concerns, or brushing you off by belittling your mental health.
  • Your work environment becomes unhealthy and unsupportive. Malicious comments and remarks or gossip are examples of this. Keep in mind, what you say to your boss about your mental health and struggles is confidential. If colleagues know about your anxiety, but you have not told them, this could be a sign of a breach of confidentiality and require further action.
  • You are under-compensated. If you notice the paycheck is smaller than normal after you discuss your anxiety, it may be time to find a new job. This is discrimination against peoples with disabilities and therefore unlawful.

work anxiety

Seeking Help Outside The Workplace 

If something feels awry after discussing your work anxiety with your boss or HR, this could be an indicator of a deeper issue. If these problems are left unresolved after you report them, and you still feel like your environment is hostile, you may be better off somewhere else. The good news is, most workplaces are understanding and accommodating to their employees.

Mental health is not as hush-hush as it once was. Due to this new and growing perspective, a lot of companies now have resources for their employees. If you are not already seeing a therapist or medical professional for your work anxiety, reach out to your company’s HR director. They might be able to help you seek mental health services. While many companies are still coming around to the fact that mental health is a real struggle, don’t be ashamed of work anxiety. You are human, and you are doing your best!

Have other tips when it comes to disclosing work anxiety with your boss? Share with us!

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