J.E Stanway has had social anxiety all her life and has worked in customer service since the age of thirteen.
Anxiety is a mental health issue that has heavily increased over the years, and social anxiety, in particular, is a burden for many of us who work in a customer-based environment. As a person who deals with social anxiety and works as a barista for a living, this is a constant issue in my own working life.
According to Canada.ca, "In 2013, an estimated 3 million Canadians (11.6%) aged 18 years or older reported that they had a mood and/or anxiety disorder."
As these statistics continue to rise, employers are going to continue to have more and more employees that struggle with mental health. Our world is increasingly becoming more connected and jobs have changed so much that for this new generation of workers, it's nearly impossible to find a job that doesn't revolve around interacting with people on a day-to-day basis.
CTV News reported in 2017 that in the top 10 occupations in Canada, retail and customer service positions rank at #3 for men and #1 for women. These jobs are considered the most attainable for the average person. In practice, this means that a large percentage of those who struggle with social anxiety, depression, OCD, and other mental health issues are being thrust into high-stress work environments in customer service.
Now, of course, mental health should never be used as an excuse not to exhibit work ethic. And unfortunately, many interpret genuine cases of social anxiety as an employee making excuses not to work, or to seek attention or special treatment. This is why it is vitally important for business owners and employers to educate themselves on mental health, so as to approach each individual case with the seriousness it deserves. In 2017, in an interview with Refinery29.com, writer Ahnya Hamilton spoke about her experience having social anxiety paired with working in customer service. She relates:
"People think it's just an extreme case of social awkwardness. It's not. It's overthinking everything said to and by you. It's not being able to look people in the eyes when talking. It's having to mentally prepare yourself to say a simple greeting to a customer. It's your body shaking when a customer tries to start a conversation with you. It's a depressive episode when you feel like a failure for not being able to hold a simple conversation. It's anxiety when you're asked a question by a customer that you don't know the answer to."
What Businesses Can Do for Those With Social Anxiety
As is stated above, many interpret anxiety attacks and responses in the wrong way. Happily, as we learn more about mental disorders, many workplaces are becoming more sensitive to this real and impactful issue. The same article by Refinery 29 states earlier in their interview that many workplaces are beginning to offer Mental Health Days in their benefits packages. These are treated with the same courtesy as a sick day, with the hope that the person undergoing a bad mental episode will return refreshed and in a better state of mind. Similarly, many businesses allow their workers to take a sick day or have their shift covered if they aren't in a good emotional or mental state. My place of work is accommodating in this fashion.
Unfortunately, many workplaces still do not acknowledge mental disorders as serious health issues, as they do chronic physical ailments or illnesses. Some employers may even become frustrated or angry at an associate when they are experiencing a bout of anxiety. This being the case, many are at a loss for how to properly handle their anxiety during their regular tasks at work, let alone in stressful situations such as dealing with difficult customers or rushes.
There are many ways to help lessen the effect your anxiety has on your secular work. Regular physical exercise, good sleeping habits, eating nutritional foods, and educating yourself about your disorder are practices that should be developed into your everyday life.
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As well, being upfront with your employer about your mental health issues early on will allow them to help you remain emotionally and mentally stable while under there supervision. I personally let my current employer know during my job interview that I suffer from anxiety, which she appreciated knowing as she was able to adjust my training and schedule to accommodate me, so as not to cause me to feel overwhelmed.
Whatever your current position or status in your working life, your health should always remain a priority. No one can be a diligent worker if they are not sound in mind and body, and your employer should never expect you to forfeit mental and emotional stability for the sake of your job.
Social Anxiety Can Be Dealt With
For any employers reading, I implore you to educate yourself thoroughly on the realities of mental disorders, in order to accommodate your workers. Please be aware that your employee's mental health is just as important as their physical health.
For my fellow customer service workers, communicate with your superiors and supervisors about your anxiety. Evaluate the atmosphere of your work environment, as you may not be the only individual stressed out at your job on a day-to-day basis. There is nothing wrong with switching jobs if it saves you emotionally.
Social anxiety is an ongoing struggle, but with the right care and attention to yourself and from your employer, it is a struggle that can be improved in due time.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 JE Stanway