In 2016/17 stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 40% of all work-related ill-health cases. A staggering statistic, especially since this totals around 12.5 million sick days. More than ever, it is important that companies are able to recognise the signs of stress in their workplace and are able to support their employees.
What are the signs that one of my employees could be struggling with stress?
Increased Absences: The employee might be taking more sick days, with sporadic “sudden” symptoms such as food poisoning or a 24 hour flu. There may still be a stigma in your industry surrounding mental health and whether or not it is a legitimate reason to take time off work, which leads employees to bend the truth a little for fear of not being taken seriously.
Underperforming: Your previously accurate, reliable colleague might have trouble concentrating or prioritising their workload. They may struggle to make decisions, appear overwhelmed or flustered, and make mistakes in their work in areas they previously completed easily.
Trouble outside of work: Your employee might be coming in later than usual and seem sluggish and lethargic. They may be coming into work hungover or doing things which make them seem preoccupied with life outside of their job, such as checking their phone a lot.
Changes in mood: Your easy-going, cheerful colleague may be snapping at others or becoming upset easily. They may be quieter and withdrawn, and have trouble expressing themselves. Those with high levels of stress and anxiety may also respond more negatively to suggestions and feedback, taking constructive criticism extremely personally and using words like “failure” and “burden” to describe themselves.
How can I address this issue with my employee?
Speak with your employee if you are concerned that stress and anxiety are starting to affect them at work.
When doing so, try to have the conversation in private during a time where you can give the employee your full attention. Make sure there are no other interactions like employees coming into the room or phone calls you need to interrupt the conversation to take. Whilst you might have a stressful workload of your own to manage, showing your employee that they have your undivided attention will demonstrate that their mental health is a priority. Don’t make a habit of checking your watch or phone throughout the meeting!
Try not to rush your employee through the conversation and give them plenty of time to answer your questions. They might be feeling nervous – research has shown that two fifths of us have been negatively treated due to a mental health issue – and as such may struggle to convey what they mean at times. Many people cope with stress and anxiety without telling anyone and finally opening up might cause your employee to become emotional.
Try to see the situation from their perspective and draw on your own experiences to understand what they are going through. Try not to assume anything about your employee’s situation, and be mindful that everybody deals with stress and anxiety in different ways.
Remember that the goal is to work together to find a way to support your employee, rather than to “catch them out” and find ways to minimise what they are experiencing. As well as allowing the employee to provide context, you should also discuss what could be done to minimise stress and anxiety in their working environment. Changes could include supporting your employee in prioritising their workload, making adjustments to their environment to minimise disruption or ensure they are taking enough breaks. Try to focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t.
When your meeting is over, tell your employee what will happen next. For example, you could agree on a follow-up meeting in a month’s time to check in and discuss the adjustments made and if the situation has improved.
Anxiety UK provide workplace training on recognising and supporting employees with stress and anxiety. We also offer corporate memberships so employees can access discounted therapy. Read more about how we can help your company here.