Struggling at work due to social anxiety

A review of “Severity of anxiety and work-related outcomes of patients with anxiety disorders.”



Many individuals with anxiety describe struggling at work. Erickson et al. (2009) examined the relationship between anxiety and several different work outcomes, such as work productivity, self-reported impairment, interpersonal problems, and time missed at work, in a sample of individuals receiving treatment for an anxiety disorder. Results indicated that greater anxiety severity was associated with greater difficulties at work. In addition, the authors found that those who improved during treatment, improved on several work outcomes. These results are important because they highlight that difficulties individuals with anxiety may experience at work may actually be related to their symptoms and that treating the symptoms can reduce difficulties at work.


What were the goals of this study?

The main goal of this study was to examine how anxiety severity was related to a variety of work outcomes in patients seeking treatment for anxiety.

How did the authors examine the study goals?

The authors examined the study goals by contacting individuals who were seeking treatment for anxiety prior to their treatment beginning. Eighty one of the individuals they contacted decided to participate in the study and then completed several paper-and-pencil measures assessing their anxiety, work outcomes, and functional impairment. All of these individuals were then contacted after 12 weeks of treatment and asked to participate again. Those that agreed to participate again (50 individuals), completed the study measures a second time.

What were the main findings from this study?

There were three main findings:

1. The researchers found that those with more severe anxiety experienced greater work problems, such as “percent impairment while at work”, “output demands”, “percent activity impairment due to health”, and “interpersonal problems”. Importantly, the researchers did not find that the groups differed in the type of job they were in or their job satisfaction, which are other reasons that individuals might struggle at work.

2.Individuals who did not improve in treatment did not show any changes on the work outcomes.

3. Individuals who did improve in treatment showed improve on several of the work problems measures, such as “percent impairment while working” and “percent activity impairment due to health.”

What are the implications of this study?

The results of this study suggest that individuals with anxiety disorders, such as Social Anxiety Disorder, may experience problems at work that are related to their anxiety. These difficulties may range from lower productivity, missing work/sick days, or struggles with other employees. In addition, results of this study suggest treatment of anxiety can improve these work outcomes, which will help individuals to succeed in the workplace.

What does this all mean for me?

Results of this study may not mean anything in particular for you if you do not find yourself struggling at work. However, if you do experience problems at work, these results may help you to better understand the source of these difficulties. More specifically, it may be that a lot of your work problems are related to your anxiety symptoms and not due to any weaknesses/deficits. Further, these results also suggest that your performance at work will likely improve as you make progress reducing your anxiety.

How can I learn more about this study?

If you would like to learn more about this study, please visit the University of Michigan library website.


Erickson, S. R., Guthrie, S., Vanetten-Lee, M., Himle, J., Hoffman, J., Santos, S. F., . . . Abelson, J. L. (2009). Severity of anxiety and work-related outcomes of patients with anxiety disorders. Depress Anxiety, 26(12), 1165-1171. doi: 10.1002/da.20624

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