Work-related stress: How to spot the symptoms

By Tanya Woolf, below, Head of Psychological Services at Onebright 

Work-related stress can occur in any job, level, and sector. While stress can be a good thing for productivity and creativity, there’s a fine line between a healthy amount of stress and a toxic amount that negatively affects one’s mental health. If employees become too stressed, it takes a toll on the individual and the company’s overall culture.

Spotting the signs of work-related stress early allows employers to have more control over the situation and find ways to manage or remove any unnecessary stressors in the workplace. Realistically, some stressors can’t be removed, so investing in stress management is essential to ensure a happy, healthy, and engaged workforce.

Signs of stress in the workplace

  1. A change in behaviour 

Changes in behaviour don’t automatically mean stress, but any behavioural differences need to be noted and addressed by leadership teams. Certain behaviours may be typical for one individual and may be a sign of stress for another. There is no one-size-fits-all list that can apply to every individual, but we can look at common symptoms and ask ourselves if we have spotted the following changes:

  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Sleeping too little or too much – this can lead to poor timekeeping
  • Procrastinating or avoiding responsibilities and missing deadlines
  • Poor decision making
  • Avoiding conversations with people/meetings
  • More use of drugs, alcohol or cigarettes
  • Nervous behaviours like nail-biting, fidgeting or pacing
  • Increase in short term sickness absence
  • Uncharacteristic defensiveness, cynicism and frustration
  • Conflict in relationships / aggressive behaviour

Because people handle stress very differently, symptoms of stress can vary and may not always be clear. Hence, employers who create an environment where employees feel safe and empowered to engage in honest communication will benefit from higher productivity.

  1. Withdrawn and disengaged

Stress tends to cause people to isolate themselves. This reaction is often used to feel in control of the circumstance or to cope with a stressful social situation, such as reaching out to someone for mental health support. Employers and business leaders can co-create goals with employees that are meaningful and measurable and demonstrate that individual successes are connected to the business’s success.

  1. Accidents or more frequent mistakes

Prolonged stress, or burnout, can manifest itself as inefficiency or a decline in work output. Employees who might have been highly engaged at one point, but didn’t have the mental health training to preserve their well-being, are more likely to produce work with mistakes or miss deadlines altogether.

Stress at work not only impacts employee health but also affects workplace safety. Often, stress results in accidents in the workplace because individuals are focused on a problem and are not attentive to their surroundings. Employers can establish a support system in the workplace by:

  • Understanding what leads to stress
  • Identifying signs and symptoms
  • Practical tips and exercises for managing stress
  • Peer support
  1. High turnover in the workplace

Employees with workplace stress tend to be unhappy in their work situations. If they haven’t been provided with mental health resources, they won’t feel supported by the company and will look elsewhere for work. If companies have employees who constantly come and go, this is a tell-tale sign that their workforce is not comfortable sharing its struggles with the leadership team.

Mental health training for stress management 

Support from mental health clinicians, through robust mental health training and clinically proven techniques, can empower your employees to develop life-enhancing strategies to cope with daily life pressures at work and home.