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Spotting Stress in the Employee

The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as: ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed upon them’.

As pressure from the current climate grows, we can expect stress in the workplace to grow. In real terms, this means people suffering more, and in business terms, this means lower worker morale and productivity.

Why does this matter?
Well, work related stress is the second biggest cause of absenteeism from work.
When people are experiencing stress, they tend to give indicators rather than display a complete emotional breakdown. So look out for the following signs- they can be subtle and easily missed:

stressed out


• Headaches
• Rubbing eyes
• Difficulty listening/ paying attention,
• Easily Irritated

• Statements that begin: ‘We’ve got a lot on…’, ‘It’s getting hard…’, ‘Sometimes, I don’t know if I’m coming or going…’ These may often be accompanied by a chuckle or laughter. However, do not be misled by this.
• The same issue being coming up time and again. This is an indication that someone is struggling with a persistent problem alone and that they require help.
• The tone of the statement- is there a hint of distress? Or a slightly nervous slant?
• The opposite- not bringing up a once prevalent issue anymore- a possible sign that they have given up hope (this leads to demoralisation).
• Body Language- including eyes and facial expression- what do you see? Usually if someone has something important to communicate- they give you that brief eye contact and may then look down or away.

Interpersonal/ Social
• Missing Lunch or eating whilst working
• Preferring to be away from colleagues
• In team meetings- position oneself on the periphery
• Less eye contact with colleagues

Other signs include smoking more, drinking more, disturbed sleep and a poor diet.

When the symptoms of stress are ongoing, this does lead to a sense of feeling beaten, ‘my best isn’t good enough’- in other words- demoralisation.
No matter how hard the individual is working, they will only be acutely aware of what they’ve not been able to achieve- thus disregarding their achievements and successes. This leads to a further sense of incompetence and demoralisation.

Prevention is better than Cure
Stress can have a huge impact on an individuals’ self confidence and it can be very hard for an employee to ‘pick themselves up and dust themselves off’ after experiencing work related stress.

As a manager- what can you do?

1. Bring awareness to the ‘Signs’ above.

2. Take a walk around your office space. What is the atmosphere like? E.g is it peaceful, buzzing, frenzied, tense? You will get a sense.

3. Bring your attention to yourself: What do you feel like at work? How are you coping? What are the lines of communication with your Employers/ Senior Managers like? Can you get more support should you require it?

4. If you are able to be open and honest with yourself, then your answers to the above will give you some idea about the feelings the rest of the employers are experiencing. However, to truly know the experiences of your employees you must ask them, this means being approachable and dependable. You must be trustworthy and someone the employee feels able to invest their emotions in.

Identify a Management Plan to help them- they want to see you take Constructive Action to help them.

5. Lastly, take 15 minutes to write down your responses to the above. Are you able to do this? If yes, great. If not, then this in itself might be a worthwhile indicator to you.

The fact is, spotting stress in your employee is quite easy; the key is to first take a good look at ourselves.

What next?
You can also read this blog about some of the ‘Ongoing frustrations in the NHS’ I experienced when employed as an Occupational Therapist.

For strategies to maintain your excellence at work, see the ‘Stress Management and Empowerment’ workshop we have coming up. Do book on.

And share your comments about this blog.


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