Stress Awareness: Recognising the signs and symptoms

Stress Awareness: Recognising the signs and symptoms

Recognising the signs and symptoms

The Mental Health Foundation estimates 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Work related stress is a leading cause of sickness absence in the UK with millions of working days lost each year.

There is an increasing focus on mental health in the workplace as the demands and pressures of modern life both inside and outside of work continue to rise and affect our wellbeing.

During stress awareness month, we are raising the awareness of stress, how to recognise the signs or symptoms of stress and helping workplaces to have better quality conversations about how to alleviate stress they may not of even recognise existed.

Nearly three in every ten employees will have a mental health problem of some kind in any one year. Sadly, it has been estimated that only 11% of employees discuss mental health problems with their line manager, as the fear of being discriminated against or even losing their job remains a very real concern.

There is currently no legislation specifically related to mental health in the UK and only 4 in 10 organisations have policies and systems in place to support common mental health problems, with only 11% of the top 100 companies having disclosed information in their annual reports about their initiatives to support their employees’ mental health.

What can I do as an employer?

As a line manager, being able to recognise the early signs of a person suffering from stress will provide you with the opportunity to respond to your employees needs much earlier and put appropriate support in place that can help your employee to cope better at work.

Possible signs of stress in the workplace includes, decreased productivity or performance, frequent sickness; colds, migraines, or other minor illnesses. Presenteeism and feeling the need to constantly stay late, not answering emails or missing important deadlines, or a change in a person’s behaviour such as increased irritability or decreased motivation.

The role of a manager is not to diagnose stress or provide medical advice. Every person experiences stress in a different way and they will often have a good idea themselves about how they could be best supported in their job to manage stress.

The most important thing as an employer is you feel empowered to approach the person you suspect may be suffering and open up a dialogue with them, to get a better understanding of what that person is experiencing and have a better quality conversation about how or if you can support them.

What if an employee comes to you and discloses a mental health issue?

This can be a daunting time for your employee and is certainly a conversation that needs to be handled with sensitivity. It’s important to remember that your staff member may be feeling extremely vulnerable and even worried about discrimination.

There is still a stigma that can be associated with mental health and people may often feel they are taking a risk by disclosing this information, both personally and professionally.

There is no legal obligation for a person to disclose a mental health issue and therefore reassuring your staff member that they have done the right thing and providing the right support will help to give your colleagues a sense of confidence in their decision.

7 ways to improve stress awareness in your workplace

  1. You should reassure the individual that the information they have shared with you is confidential and will not be shared with other colleagues without their permission
  2. Sometimes a person needs to take some time off if they are feeling stressed and be away from the workplace, just the same as a person who may be suffering from cancer, part of getting better is to rest and be away from the workplace
  3. You should avoid making any return to work process a punitive or formal HR process, but treat it as an opportunity to explore any underlying issues, such as: workload demands, job security, work relationships and work-life balance with your staff.
  4. Try not to assume you know the person’s symptoms, even if you have dealt with stress before or even experienced stress personally. Not one size fits all and stress affects people differently and therefore asking questions about how they are personally affected will give you a greater understanding of how to support them. Ask your employee how they can be helped and what you can do to support them day to day?
  5. It you are the line manager try to put in place some protective measures. Reasonable adjustments can help employees to perform well at work or thrive again. This may also need a conversation with HR or occupational health to make any necessary or reasonable adjustments
  6. Make mental health a regular agenda item on your team meeting agenda. Don’t wait for people to get unwell before you talk about stress. Instead think prevention, we all have mental health and we all have fluctuating emotional resilience
  7. Train your managers to spot the early warning signs and increase their confidence to have better quality conversations with their employees. You may be the best person to sensitively raise it with them at the right time.

If you would like to explore some initiatives to increase your team or organisations awareness of stress and already have embedded mental health first aiders we can support you to develop mental health awareness  beyond the usual topics, please do not hesitate to contact us