How does anxiety affect workplace performance?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 16 September, 2022 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions experienced by people in Australia during their working years, however, most organisations are unaware of the condition of anxiety as it often goes unnoticed and unreported, according to Adelaide University.

Furthermore, employees are often not aware of the impact it has on them and those around them, and anxiety in the workplace can lead to distraction, lack of focus, poor work relationships and other workplace issues, said Petrina Coventry, a professor at Adelaide University and director within the Lifelong Health discipline at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

“Anxiety affects all of us. It is something that we bring to work, it can impact work in a negative way and it does not need to be diagnosed to be a concern,” she said.

“Organisations are increasingly setting up health and wellbeing programs, often run by WHS teams, but the science and real impact behind these programs is under-researched and increasingly the effectiveness and efficacy of these programs have been bought into question.”

Organisations are struggling to determine what programs really assist employees with regard to health and wellbeing, and what mental health conditions impact work the most, said Coventry, who was speaking ahead of the 2022 Annual South Australian AIHS Branch Symposium, which will be held on Friday 21 October 2022 at the Adelaide Zoo.

“They are seeking input into what programs work, are most cost-effective and bring value to the individual and organisation,” she said.

WHS as a function is increasingly measured with regard to workplace performance metrics such as employee attendance, engagement, workers' compensation claims, and other key indicators around health and wellbeing.

“WHS has increasingly taken on the role of managing health and wellbeing,” said Coventry.

“Physical and process safety was the traditional remit of the function, but as psychological safety and mental health have become increasingly more widely recognised as an issue,

“WHS has had to diversify, however, there is still a gap for WHS with regard to training and resources to assist in this area,” she said.

OHS will need to be resourced, educated and supported in the journey towards being able to manage programs that are empirically tested, and measured in order to ensure that its credibility in this space is strengthened, Coventry added.

“A lot of the workplace health and wellbeing offerings are quite commercial in nature, and often untested. They can be expensive for organisations, but not show any real return on investment,” she said.

“My advice is to continue to participate in the research being conducted so that better resources can be developed. Innovation in this area will be key and the OHS function has a great opportunity to help us be able to co-develop better programs for organisations.”


Coventry will be speaking ahead at the 2022 Annual South Australian AIHS Branch Symposium, which will be held on Friday 21 October 2022 at the Adelaide Zoo. For more information call (03) 8336 1995, email or visit the event website