Stress in the Workplace – An Employers Guide

woman feeling stress in the workplace

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Did you know that April is stress awareness month? It’s a time each year to remember to focus on understanding and managing the stress that we face in life, especially stress that comes from work. Stress has always been common in the workplace. It can make people feel unwell, less productive, anxious and even depressed. For employers, it is important to look out for signs of stress in their employees, understand the causes, and act accordingly. Use this month to learn about the different causes of stress so you can help your employees handle it much more effectively.

What is stress?

Stress is the feeling you get when you’re under too much pressure. This pressure can come from a wide range of things such as your job, money problems, or family issues. It can feel like carrying a heavy backpack that gets heavier the more worries and concerns get added to it. Everyone feels stressed at some point in their lives, and to an extent it is normal. But when it’s too much, it can start to bring you down and affect an employee’s performance.

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

As mentioned before, some stress is good for you. Good stress, or eustress is the kind you feel when you’re excited or anticipating something. You might feel this when faced with things that aren’t in your usual day-to-day, such as running late, a date, or when you’re competing in a game. It can make you feel alive, ready to take on challenges and push to solve problems. This stress is normal and is caused by an increase in your pulse and hormones, and is always without fear. But like anything, too much of a good thing isn’t healthy.

Bad stress or ‘distress’ is stress with fear. This is usually caused when the pressure is too much and doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. It can leave you feeling worn out, and jittery and can become detrimental to your health. Bad stress can lead to serious health issues such as anxiety, confusion, poor concentration, depression and a decrease in motivation and performance.

Short-term bad stress (acute) doesn’t take a toll on your body and mind if you can find ways to manage and relax quickly. However long-term stress (chronic) can take a negative toll on your body. As well as the mental effect it can have, chronic stress can cause physical health effects such as headaches, insomnia, weight gain, pain and high blood pressure.

However, it’s not all bad news. Being able to spot the signs of stress is the first step to managing it. Once you have recognised some of the signs, for example, headaches, short temper or struggle with sleep, you can begin to work on easing the pressure. This could be something as straightforward as going for a walk, talking to a friend, or doing some simple breathing exercises.

How to spot when your team is feeling stressed.

As an employer, it’s really important to be able to recognise and understand the signs that might indicate an employee is struggling with stress. Recognising these signs early on can make a significant difference to not just the employee, but the overall team and organisation. Stress can and does affect everyone, so having a workplace which can spot the signs early and manage these feelings is a happier, healthier place to be. 

Let’s take a look at some of the signs that an employee is feeling stressed:

Changes in Performance

Consistent performance is key in any role, but stress can dramatically affect this. If an employee who is usually a reliable member of the team starts to miss deadlines, shows a drop in their work quality, or seems unable to manage a workload they once could, this is a sign that they may be feeling too stressed. These changes in their performance suggest that they are struggling to focus or gather the motivation they need to get the job done, which are both symptoms of bad stress.

Altered Behaviour

A change in behaviour is often the most noticeable sign of stress. An employee who used to be the life and soul of the office can suddenly become withdrawn if they are feeling stressed out. Alternatively, someone who has usually been quiet might start to speak out and become unnaturally loud, possibly for relief or to distract them from their feelings. 

Physical Signs

As mentioned before, stress doesn’t just affect a person mentally; it has physical effects too. You might notice an employee complaining of a headache or tiredness. They could also appear visibly tired, or show signs of them neglecting their appearance. This can indicate that there is a lack of energy, caused by bad stress.

Mood Swings

Employees who are usually well-tempered but have started to show signs of irritability, anxiety or depression could be under significant stress. They may begin to emotionally react to situations, have a short temper or seem overwhelmed by tasks that they could previously take on without problem.

Changes in Attendance

Changes in attendance patterns can also signal stress:

Increased Sick Days

Stress can affect the body in different ways. It can compromise the immune system, leaving employees to get a physical illness, or they might call in sick because they feel too overwhelmed with everything going on and unable to face the workplace. Whilst some employees have to take sick days for other reasons, a sudden uptake in the number of sick days might indicate that the employee is suffering from stress.

Not Taking Holidays

Everyone looks forward to a well-deserved break from work. However, some employees who are dealing with stress in the workplace might not be taking their holiday entitlement as they feel too overwhelmed with responsibility to step away. They might fear falling behind with work or believe that no other team member will be able to handle their tasks. Both of these situations are symptoms of workplace stress.

Social Changes at Work

An employee’s interaction with colleagues can offer clues to their stress levels:


Withdrawing from team social activities, such as lunches, coffee meets or after-work activities can be a sign that an employee is trying to cope with stress. This self-isolation can intensify stress levels and feelings of detachment from the team.


Stress can make people more defensive, sensitive, or short-tempered which can lead to an increase of conflict with colleagues. If an employee who used to get on well with others suddenly starts having more disagreements with others, it could be the pressure that they are feeling.

Common Cause of Stress in the Workplace

Understanding what leads to stress at work is the first step in making things better for everyone. Let’s take a look into some common stress triggers and how they affect employees:

Too Much Work

This is a very common problem – too much work and not enough time. This kind of pressure can feel overwhelming, leading to long hours, and the feeling that the work is never done. It’s not just about having a lot to get on with; it’s the constant pressure to perform that can take its toll on an employee, leaving them to feel like they are always behind.

Tight Deadlines

Deadlines are necessary to any organisation, but when they are too tight or unrealistic, they become a source of stress. The pressure to beat the clock can cause anxiety, reduce the quality of the work produced and can lead to costly mistakes. 

Not Getting Along with Colleagues

Work is a big part of most people’s lives. Not getting along with colleagues can make every day a challenge. Whether it’s clashes of personality, working styles or just outright conflicts, strained relationships within the team can create a tense atmosphere which can add to an individual’s stress levels.

Unclear Job Roles

When a person isn’t clear on what is expected of them, it can be very stressful. This uncertainty means they could be worried about focusing on the wrong task or making mistakes. A clear understanding of their role and responsibilities is key for a confident, productive employee and overall team.

Lack of Support

Feeling unsupported by managers or not having the necessary tools and resources to do the job can leave employees feeling isolated and under pressure. Support goes beyond just physical resources. Employees should be able to feel comfortable in approaching senior team members for support and guidance.

Changes at Work

Change is a part of everyday life. In the workplace, sudden change can lead to uncertainty and insecurity. A shift in management, restructuring or change in direction can make employees feel unstable and worried about their future with the business. This fear can cause high levels of stress.

Work-Life Balance

Balancing work with personal life, family and outside hobbies is vital for an individual’s well-being. When work starts to encroach on someone’s personal time, it can lead to burnout. This can make an employee feel like there is no escape from work and no time for relaxation or enjoyment, which increases stress levels.

Addressing these issues often requires a proactive approach from management, including better communication, realistic goal setting, and creating a supportive work environment. Recognising and tackling the causes of stress can lead to happier, more productive employees and a healthier workplace culture.

How to Minimise Workplace Stress for Employees

Managing stress is key to maintaining a healthy, productive workplace. Here are some effective strategies, expanded for clarity:

Prioritise and Organise

Help your team prioritise tasks by what’s most urgent and important. Encouraging your team to have good organisational skills can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed. Try to encourage a smarter attitude to work and reassure them that it is okay to push less critical tasks to a later date.

Set Realistic Goals

Goals are important for motivation, but they also need to be achievable. Unrealistic goals cause unnecessary stress. Work with your team to set targets that will challenge them without pushing them into feeling overly anxious or overwhelmed. You should also celebrate with them small wins to keep morale high. A congratulations or a short email expressing gratitude can go a long way and boost their personal motivation.

Encourage Breaks

Taking short breaks throughout the working day can do wonders for reducing stress. It is a fantastic way to take a step back, clear your head and return to work with a fresh perspective. Encourage your team to take their breaks, ideally somewhere where they can relax properly away from their desk or workspace.

Promote Open Communication

Create an environment where your employees feel comfortable and safe in sharing their thoughts or concerns. Regular check-ins and open-door policies can make a huge difference. This open-door, supportive environment can lessen the weight of stress on an employee.

Support Work-Life Balance

This goes without saying, but you should always work with your employees to maintain a healthy balance between work and home. This could be in the form of flexible working hours or if possible, working from home. This shows your employees that you value their time outside the workplace as much as their time in it.

Provide Stress Management Resources

Offering workshops or resources on stress management can empower employees to take control of their stress levels. This could include training on time management, mindfulness, or even providing access to counselling services.

Employer creating a positive work culture to reduce employee stress

Creating a Positive Workplace Culture

Creating a positive work environment can decrease stress levels. Employers aiming for this should set a good example themselves. When employees enjoy their workplace culture and feel secure and fulfilled in their roles, they tend to be more productive, contributing to a more effective team. Below are strategies for enhancing your company culture to make it more positive:

Lead by Example

Leadership sets the tone for the culture in the workplace. As an employer, you need to demonstrate healthy work habits and stress management in your own behaviour. This will then encourage your team to adopt a similar approach.

Build a Team Environment

Always promote teamwork and a sense of community amongst your employees. When employees feel part of a supportive team, they’re more likely to effectively share the load during busy periods, reducing stress for everyone.

Recognise and Reward Efforts

Acknowledging hard work and achievements makes employees feel valued and appreciated, which can significantly reduce stress. It doesn’t always have to be about big rewards; sometimes, a simple thank you can make all the difference.

Offer Professional Development

Providing opportunities for growth and development shows your team that you’re invested in their future. This can alleviate stress by giving them a sense of direction and purpose within the company.

Encourage Feedback

Make it easy for employees to give feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. This not only helps you address potential stressors but also makes them feel heard and respected.

Support Mental Health

Finally, make mental health a priority. This could mean bringing in external speakers, offering mental health days, or providing access to wellness programs. Knowing that their employer cares about their mental health can alleviate a great deal of stress for employees.

Implementing these strategies requires commitment but the payoff in terms of a happier, more productive, and less stressed workforce is well worth the effort.


Stress in the workplace is a challenge that both employers and employees face together. Recognising the signs of stress, understanding its causes, and working to minimise and manage it are essential steps towards a healthier work environment. By prioritising organisation, setting realistic goals, promoting a culture of open communication, and supporting a work-life balance, we can create a workplace where stress is managed effectively.

Moreover, building a supportive workplace culture not only helps in reducing stress but also enhances overall productivity and job satisfaction. Leading by example, recognising efforts, encouraging teamwork, and supporting mental health are all crucial elements of this approach.

Ultimately, the responsibility falls on both employers and employees to collaborate in making the workplace a less stressful and more supportive space. As you implement the strategies discussed, it’s important to remember that the goal is not just to reduce stress but to create an environment where everyone can thrive.  

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