How to recognise the signs of work-related stress in yourself and others

Stressed Out Employee At Work During A Break
Louise Fernand
Publish Date:
14 Jun 2021
Reading Time:
5 Mins

Stress is one of the most common mental health issues at work. According to a 2020 workplace survey, 79% of workers commonly experience work-related stress.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regards workplace stress as a major employment risk. As well as the distress caused to individuals, stress-related employee absence is estimated to cost the UK economy in the region of £3.8 billion per year.

There are many different ways we can respond to feelings of stress and symptoms will vary from employee to employee so try not to generalise too much. However, recognising signs of stress in yourself as well as your team is an important step in dealing with it

Here we have identified six common signs of stress to look out for in your team.


1. Unusual quietness

Look out for members of your team who suddenly become disengaged or quiet. Stressed employees might shy away to avoid drawing any attention to themselves or they may have a lack of enthusiasm for things you would usually expect them to.

However, take a judgment call based on what their normal behaviour looks like. Some people are naturally more introverted than others, but if someone who’s normally very outspoken begins isolating themselves, it could be a sign of stress and cause for concern.


2. Unprovoked aggression

Think about how they respond to things. Have they been unusually short tempered, irritable or had an outburst of anger that is uncharacteristic of them?

When people feel overwhelmed at work, they may become frustrated, angry, irritable or respond to situations differently. Constant fidgeting and uncharacteristic reactions could be one of the signs of stress.


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3. Missed deadlines

If your team are missing deadlines, it’s important to drill down into why that is. It’s not always as simple as getting better at time management – they could be struggling with their workload pressures or avoiding things or people they are having problems with. Think about if there are any broken-down relationships within the team. Are there any training needs that haven’t been met?


4. Reduced standard of work

As well as missed deadlines, another potential sign of stress is the quality of the work your employees are doing. Feelings of stress can lead to poor time management, which in turn means the work they do complete may be rushed and mistakes happen. Stress can also affect concentration levels. Have they understood the brief and been given enough time to digest and complete the work?


5. Lateness or absence

Did you know that 17 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2022?

Employees who arrive late on a regular basis or start booking more time off than usual, may be avoiding the workplace to avoid the stressful sensations it gives them. You may also see an increase in sickness absence, and although this may not be reported as stress the wider effects of stress can manifest in a variety of different ways throughout the whole body including stomach upsets, headaches, aches and pains or tiredness.


6. Atypical behaviour

As well as lashing out, employees who are stressed may appear to neglect themselves or display reckless behaviour. This could include increased reliance on smoking, alcohol, or other recreational substances.

Everyone can probably recognise at least one of the signs of stress listed above, and it’s likely that many of us have experienced stress in our lives. As we’ve outlined, the symptoms of stress vary across individuals, but identifying the signs at an early stage increases the chances that action can be taken to deal with the symptoms and in turn, minimise the risk to the individual’s health and wellbeing.

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