Stress awareness – how can managers support employees?

Stress awareness - how can managers support employees?
Home | News | Stress awareness – how can managers support employees?

April is stress awareness month and this year’s theme is ‘little by little’, which aims to highlight the impact of small positive actions on overall wellbeing. We consider the impact stress can have, how to be alert to it and what managers can do to support employees.

Stressful feelings typically happen when we feel we do not have the resources to manage the challenges we face. Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope at work can have a significant impact on an employee’s performance, conduct and relationships with colleagues.

What causes stress?

 With regard to the workplace, employees can experience stress as a result of several factors such as:

  • Excessive demands from their role
  • Their workload feels unmanageable
  • They feel out of their depth with the task(s) they have been asked to perform
  • Disputes with a colleague or manager

It can also be the case that if your employee is suffering from stress because of one factor then they become more susceptible to being affected by other factors, and so the list of stressors expands quickly.

What are the impacts of chronic stress?

Stress in minor-to-moderate doses may be expected, as the body is equipped to handle these reactions and some people find a modest amount of stress to be quite helpful and motivating. However, the problem arises with ongoing stress – which can have serious consequences. Chronic stress impacts the entire body and can harm wellbeing in the long-term.

Ongoing stress is a risk factor for heart disease, dementia, stroke, accelerated aging, depression, anxiety, insulin resistance, prolonged digestive issues, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

From a mental health perspective and in the context of work, stress can now amount to a disability within the Equality Act 2010. Chronic stress may negatively impact an employee’s:

  • Outlook on life
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Performance in the workplace
  • Quality of self-care
  • Attendance levels and absences

Recent statistics issued by the Health and Safety Executive reveal that 1.8 million workers reported they were suffering from work-related ill health in 2022/23, with approximately half of the cases down to stress, depression or anxiety.

With this in mind, it is important employers and line managers are alert to those employees who might be suffering stress.

Spotting the signs in employees

These may not always be obvious or even caused by work, but the signs will be there. For example, is someone taking more time off, arriving for work later or being more twitchy or nervous? A change in behaviour can also be a sign of stress such as:

  • Mood swings
  • Being withdrawn
  • Loss of motivation, commitment and confidence
  • Increased emotional reactions – being more tearful, sensitive or aggressive

Sometimes employees may even start self-medicating with alcohol.

What should employers do?

The first step is to talk with your employee. Being sensitive and supportive is key – they may not wish to talk about the situation or may not have identified the stress for themselves. Make time for a meeting in the working day and discuss the matter in private. Once the employee begins to share what they are experiencing, you should be open minded about how they might be feeling. Ask open questions and really listen to what you are being told. Try to establish the cause of the stress with the employee and work together on identifying possible solutions.

Although this is highly dependent on the cause of the issue and the circumstances of the employee, possible solutions could include:

  • Making temporary changes to work duties
  • Allowing the employee to work flexibly for a period to enable them to deal with a domestic issue
  • Discuss making an occupational health referral
  • Signpost them to your Employee Assistance Programme if you operate one
  • Recommend external agencies for additional support, such as Mind or the Samaritans

Importantly, arrange to follow up with the employee to discuss how they are doing and what further support they might need.

There is no ‘one size fits all approach to helping an employee with stress. It is often not a simple or quick fix. If left unchecked, it can have numerous consequences, but with ongoing support, it may be possible for things to improve for the employee, which in turn may well assist to get their performance in their role back on track.

If you would like our support in managing a stress-related situation in your workplace or to develop relevant policies and guidance, please contact Simon Martin in our team on 07384 813 076.