Managing the Mind, Body, and Soul—Closing the Gap between Managers and Young Employees with Anxiety Disorders

Dr. Debra Hunter & Dr. Charles Chekwa

Abstract

Younger generational cohorts are entering the workforce with much higher rates of reported mental illnesses than their predecessors. Academic stress, anxiety, and depression are a major cause of concern among college students. The 2019 Center for Collegiate Mental Health reported that anxiety is one of the most common diagnosis of students seeking services at university counseling centers(1). In many cases, these young individuals have received special accommodations in primary, secondary and higher educational learning institutions. Classroom accommodations that support flexibility may include additional time to complete assessments, small group classes, permission to record lectures and the ability to use technology in a learning environment. However, mandated educational accommodations for disabilities in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act do not transfer into the workplace. The workplace environment operates under different standards with less flexibility. In fact, educational institutions may be marginally preparing students with accommodations to operate in the real world. Companies required to adhere to Title I of the American Disabilities must only provide “reasonable accommodations” for documented disabilities and the interpretation of what is reasonable is determined by management. Yet, many anxiety related disabilities are undisclosed to management. Employees fear stigmatization and being shunned for sharing their conditions. In some cases, the anxiety could affect workplace productivity and possibly pre-mature termination if misunderstood. The lack of communication between employees and managers creates a “gap” leading to possible unemployment or discrimination suits. In fact, EEOC discrimination charges filed on behalf of employees who suffer from anxiety increased from 65 in 2006 to 371 in 2019. This increase leads one to believe that managers are not properly addressing employees’ mental health. Proper training and development opportunities in mental health related issues may curtail additional lawsuits imposed on organizations. To provide an inclusive workplace environment, managers must be proactive in assessing the holistic needs of employees including support for mental and emotional disabilities. This research contends that Generation Z will have higher expectations than previous cohorts for workplace accommodations to support anxiety, stress, autism, and other mental challenges. These expectations have implications for universities and management training programs designed to embrace the needs of individuals with mental health related issues. Greater attention is warranted on closing the existing gap between management and employees with anxiety related disorders.