Q&A: The war on workplace anxiety

Ankur Patel, Director of Product Marketing, Zenefits
Apr 20, 2022

Ankur Patel, Director of Product Marketing at Zenefits, shares how to spot anxiety in the workplace, lead with empathy, and create safe spaces for conversation.

We don’t have to tell you anxiety is on the rise, but levels may be even higher than you’d expect. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America found 75% of employees say their stress interferes with their personal and professional lives.

As a leader, it’s your job to take care of your people through an emotionally and mentally challenging season.

Ankur Patel, Director of Product Marketing at Zenefits, joins the show to share his insights on leading with empathy, including:

  • Potential stressors for your team
  • How to recognize anxiety at work
  • Ways to create safe spaces for conversation
  • Tips for encouraging good mental health practices

Tune in to learn how to help your team fight the anxiety crisis head-on, one step at a time.

On this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [01:00] What’s causing additional anxiety today
  • [05:00] The importance of leading with empathy
  • [06:00] How to spot anxiety in the workplace
  • [07:00] Developing safe spaces for conversation 
  • [09:00] Encouraging mental health practices

After you listen: 

Ask a SMB Workplace Question and get featured on POPS! The People Ops podcast.

POPS Star Bio

Ankur serves as the Director of Product Marketing at Zenefits. He loves solving problems and approaches them with an engineer’s mind. 

Ankur’s passion for small businesses started early: he grew up watching his dad successfully manage a small business. Fast forward to today and Ankur has made his career in building solutions for small businesses.


Welcome to pops the show that shows you how to shift from human resources, paperwork to people, operations for the new world of work. How by answering one question at a time, Ankur Patel is here to answer today’s question. Ankur leads, Zenefits of product marketing efforts. And as part of his role, he’s deeply engaged with people, operations leaders and the market data behind the thorniest issues they face.

You’ll hear him more often on the show, offering ideas and practices to get ahead of the new world of work challenges,

the war on workplace anxiety, the anxiety and depression association of America just did a recent poll. And what they found was three-fourths of employees say their stress interferes with both their personal and professional.

Anxiety and stress there. They are all common human emotions, which certainly ebb and flow throughout the year, depending on what the catalysts are, but just to really step back and think holistically of. That cause. And some of the drivers that they, we might be that might be contributing to numbers that are so daunting.

The first and foremost is the global pandemic. Roughly a third of individuals still have anxiety driven due to the pandemic, which is affecting even basic decision-making. In addition to that, Things like the economic crisis. We went through a ton of rapid upticks and we’re starting to see declines and there’s definitely ebbs and flows of people are seeing.

On average, 10 to 20% dip in the market usually takes about four months to recover. So that’s based on historical context and you can imagine larger dips require even a longer recovery period. When you are somebody who’s been in the workforce. For a while, you’re starting to see savings and nest eggs dwindle, and that definitely causes stress, causes a lot of people to think.

Are they going to be able to retire? It starts to just surface so many different thoughts that can definitely lead to a negative direction and, and concurrently inflation is at an all time high. When you’re seeing necessities get hiked up in price 2, 3, 4, fold. It definitely puts more of a strain on how far your dollar will stretch.

And when you’re supporting a family or just a household itself, Stephanie, something that you have to be more cognizant of. And generally through decades, long of research, financial. Needs and finances in general have always been a top three stressor for any household. In addition to ad you’re also seeing supply chain issues, a continued logistical issues, which lead to longer term setbacks with production.

And we know that 40% of us small businesses are experiencing supply chain delays. So not even just as consumers that are now having to hold out on some of their necessities, businesses are also feeling the same stress. Which definitely impacts revenues and performance overall. And if all of that wasn’t enough, we’re still going through labor shortages.

And as businesses are trying to find top talent and compete for top talent in 2021 alone, we used. About 50 million employees quit their jobs. So huge, huge number led to the narrative of the great resignation. And that’s definitely trickled into 2022. So even if you are a thriving business, you’re starting to see some turnover gaps you need to fill.

And employees are also recognizing that they’re more willing to switch than they were historically. And it’s definitely starting to add up the last point. That’s always top of mind for me is obviously just the macro. Uh, environment that we’re all facing. If you think of all the global predicaments that continue to arise through the pandemic, we ended a multi decades, long war in the middle east, and it was only a to buy another world crisis with the Russian Ukraine conflict.

So even though. In the U S you know what, we’re a bit distant. It isn’t, uh, our immediate conflict. It’s obviously something we’re very cognizant of. And 80% of Americans are even recognizing they have issues with the invasion of Ukraine, and they’re feeling significant stress from that all together. If you step back and think of all the categories of impact that we covered, even one alone is something to draw a stress and anxiety and just bubble up fear.

But we are collectively working through all of these together and keeping in mind that every single one of them is impacting individuals in a different way. There’s varying degrees of how. Each of these catalysts are actually impacting employees and individuals. And you hear that narrative. It definitely makes sense that three, four sets of individuals are facing so much stress and anxiety and so many levels of stressing anxiety that they haven’t faced before.

And as a leaders, I always try to ask in some of the conversations I have with customers, potential customers and just leaders in this space. What are you thinking about when it comes to actually the war on workplace anxiety? What are you thinking about installing. In your organization, what type of programs are you thinking about?

And the first answer I always get it. It doesn’t surprise me. It’s just leading with empathy. A lot of the recommendations we’re about to make first and foremost, it’s a leading with empathy through everything. We have been through this past three years and continue to go through, but yeah, as leaders, managers, administrators, Being able to pay attention to workers that are at most at risk, obviously employees in conflict zone areas that are going through other circumstances that are impacted by just the macro global environment, definitely need to pay attention to those employees and ensure that they’re in a good spot veterans, it’s a war conflict, so that can surface PTSD and all kinds of different emotions that may trigger that may have been resolved or been dealt with before.

Uh, new expecting mothers elderly. So there’s a multitude of populations to remain cognizant of, and also checking in on employees that are showing signs of new or varying performance, the ones that are. At work every single day. High-performing if there’s any change in productivity or if they start to show up late, definitely leading with empathy to start to understand what is it that’s causing these changes.

Is there something else going on and then being able to develop safe spaces for conversation? I think we’re at a point in time where many of us have been through isolation for so long. And even those that have been able to go out and about, it’s obviously under different protocols and circumstances. So being able to really carve out time and groups that solely allow people to converse and even thinking of incorporating.

Professional mediators. Can you bring a counselor? And can you bring a therapist in to guide a session and really allowing people to talk about fear at work, normalizing those conversations in both larger and smaller forums and allowing those to spearhead that change with the first story or a spotlight and running programs like that.

I know for myself, when. Someone does share something that is unique to them, maybe something they’re feeling vulnerable about. It really opens up the opportunity for others to share and just show, Hey, we’re all going through various things to various degrees and peer to peer. Yeah, it really helps build a more cohesive culture where individuals that if they are okay and happy and willing to share their peers can support them as they need to.

So as people need additional time off or additional space, others can pick up. And ensure that productivity is still happening. If somebody is unable to run part of it, there’s an anchor point that kind of helps speed up and pick up some of the needs across the teams. Goals are still met, but everybody’s getting what they need on a personal front as well.

I see a lot of leaders starting to encourage good practices for mental health and wellbeing, really encouraging people to take the time they need updating vacation policies, rendering schedules, to a certain degree where personnel are able to take the time they need. There are a ton of companies out there now moving to four day work weeks and touting that as a.

Recruitment tool because they’ve seen the productivity. That’s still is par for the course for them. And on top of that, encouraging employees to really just work through their emotions and carve out space for their emotions and be super aware of their emotions and some of their activities that they’re conducting that can feed into those.

I know with social media and just media in general, being so prevalent. There are so many outlets to consume so much information and much of which is negative. So there’s definitely opportunities to encourage folks to limit even doom scrolling. Don’t get too lost in some of the social chatter and go down the.

The, the tunnel vision of thinking through all the chaos of the world today, really giving people space to encourage it and mitigate some of those thoughts where they then feel comfortable, recharged to be able to adequately deal and move forward. So lead with empathy first. That’ll help build the culture that you do want as a top talent thriving organization.

I’m Deedee. And this was pivot a pop show by Zenefits. If you want to hear more unconventional thinking like Kimberly’s on how to build up the people behind your small business. Check out zenefits.com backslash. Dash podcast where you’ll find bonus resources, profiles, even a link to order our book, people operations.

Also, if you have questions you want us to answer on our show, check out the link in our show notes below and we’ll get you covered.

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