3 Jun 2014

Five Signs That Staff Stress Is Out Of Control

Pressure can be a great motivator but too much will cause problems, warns Andrew Kinder

We all want to progress, be given meaningful work and see the tangible results of all our efforts.  Working under pressure to meet deadlines can be exhilarating, especially if obstacles are overcome and recognition is achieved, but, at the same time, too much pressure can cause problems.

Managing stress in the workplace is a two-way process: it is the responsibility of both the organisation and the individual to work together to control it. As a manager, assigning work and deadlines is part of your normal activity. However, keeping an eye out for signs that an employee might be struggling to cope (for whatever reason) should also be an important aspect of your role.

Five signs of stress to look out for:

Changes in behaviour: An employee might go from being energetic and enthusiastic to quiet and withdrawn.

Highly emotional reactions: These might come in the form of anger outbursts or fits of frustration and moodiness.

Looking lost, bewildered, over-whelmed: An employee might appear to not be “in the room” – have trouble concentrating or focusing or appear distracted and confused.

Loss of their sense of humour: An employee may fail to be able to see the “funny side” of certain situations they would have ordinarily have found amusing.

Physical changes in appearance: These depend very much on the individual but some examples include weight loss or gain, greying of the skin or hair or even simply a more dishevelled, unkempt appearance.

What can HR and line managers do about it?
Find time to talk with the employee privately

It should not be assumed that the employee is struggling with work. They may be having real difficulties in their personal and family life.

Voice your observations about their behaviours in a non-threatening way and take care to put aside any preconceived ideas. Don’t assume you know what is causing their stress, you might be surprised by what they tell you. Allowing the employee to talk and responding by showing concern and understanding is really important.    

Offer support
Respect that the employee may not wish to discuss what is happening in their personal life with you. Instead, highlight the professional support services available to them, such as workplace counselling, occupational health and employee assistance programmes.

Ensure you know exactly what support your organisation is able to provide and have this information to hand during any meeting, including phone numbers and relevant web addresses.

Temporarily cut down on work pressures

Once you have determined the source of the stress – whether it is temporary or more of a long-term issue; whether it is work-related or being brought on by other factors – consider a revision of the employee’s workload.

It may be that this should be periodically reduced or that they simply need to be given extra support or training to feel better equipped to carry out their job.

If their problems are externally related, it may be worth proposing that they take time out of their working day to handle these. But ensure that timescales are set so that any reduction in work does not become permanent.

Don’t just leave it there. If the employee is referred to a support service, ask how they have benefitted from this help.  Also, be open to any advice or pointers that are fed back to you either from the support service or from the employee about how to improve the situation.

Monitor the employee’s behaviour and organise follow-up meetings to check on their progress or, alternatively, provide them with a work “buddy” they can go to if they feel they are struggling.

Where there are more deeper-rooted issues or if the stress issues are impacting upon work performance – it is important to seek advice from experts in the occupational health or counselling field.


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