As employer, line manager or leader, you are responsible for the well-being of your team. But how do you spot employees with stress?
If the signs aren’t obvious, they can easily be missed. We often mask how we feel, so even the most attentive manager may miss some obvious signs. And with all the tasks and challenges that come with your role, it can even more easily fall by the wayside.
So here are some common signs and symptoms of stress that you can look out for in your team.
1. Reduced productivity
Stress will impact an employee’s ability to get work done. They miss deadlines and become forgetful or indecisive. Look out for these signs in your team, in particular with those that have a reputation of usually being very diligent and focused.
Long gone are the days of berating someone for not doing enough work and leaving it at that, hoping they’ll buck up their ideas.
It’s not the solution and it’s certainly not empathic. It’s important to check if there is any background reason for this change in behaviour and have a confidential chat.
2. Increased absenteeism
Rather than turn up to work and be below par, people will also often take time off when feeling stressed or anxious.
If employees are regularly calling in sick or taking more time off than usual, it may be another sign of stress. And time for a chat.
3. Poor interpersonal relationships
Having difficulty getting along with colleagues and disrupting the team dynamic, in general, is a sign of stress as well.
Stress heightens our response to be defensive and our guard goes up. If this happens without any other obvious reason, then they may be under huge amounts of stress that need addressing.
4. Behavioural changes
Employees can become irritable, withdrawn or start to lose concentration and focus. There’s a wide variety of changes in behaviour that can occur so it can sometimes be difficult to spot.
Overall look out for any change in behaviour, for example, when someone who is normally quite calm is becoming irritable and angry. Or someone who is normally very engaged is becoming withdrawn and quiet.
When you look at it this way the signs are easier to spot and you can intervene at an earlier stage.
5. Physical symptoms
This is a tricky one as it’s not something you can necessarily observe, and people might keep it to themselves. But complaints of headaches, muscle tension or fatigue are the things to look out for if you can.
How to help employees with stress
So, if you notice any of these signs, it’s important to approach the employee with sensitivity and compassion to offer support. Whether that means providing resources for stress management or reducing their workload.
You can also promote a positive work-life balance and set realistic expectations.
But one of the most powerful things I’ve seen companies do is foster a sense of community. Encourage employees to connect with one another and build relationships.
Team building activities, social events or just providing space for employees to take breaks and relax can help reduce stress and provide a sense of community. It means that we are all looking out for each other and that’s where the real solution lies.
In our increasingly isolated world, it’s very important to create real and meaningful relationships. We can then spot these signs easily; it makes us more empathic and overall, we can improve the mental well-being of workplaces.
It really can be as simple as that.
One more thing
It’s important to note that the cause of stress your employee goes through may not be work-related. That doesn’t mean you have to get overly involved in trying to work out solutions for them.
But being a supportive and empathic manager can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
When I give presentations to companies and businesses, I am passionate about stressing this point. (That is why my presentations are an ‘educational session’ rather than claiming to deliver a solution or strategy to all mental health issues.)
If you want to create real change, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. It lies with the individual and bespoke therapy to combat stress.
For example, my signature presentation, How To Empty Your Stress Bucket, and follow-up talks, provide a good introduction to stress and burnout. But if you want to create real transformation, then that comes from an individual accepting the problem and seeking help to get better.
If you can allow the time and space for that as a supportive employer, then that’s a real help. I have even had some employers offer to pay for all or part of the cost of a therapy programme. You can leave the heavy lifting to me!