Huge steps have been taken in recent years to improve mental health awareness across society, including in the workplace. However, this week, in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health First Aid has helped launch workplace stress research that shows only 14 per cent of people are comfortable speaking to a manager about stress. Clearly there is more work to do to translate increased awareness into action.
Stress is the body’s natural response when it senses danger. We all experience stress – it’s a normal part of life and can help to motivate us. But when stress interferes with our lives, it becomes a problem. Too much stress, for too long, can make us ill. If unaddressed, unhealthy levels of stress can cause mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and can also harm our physical health.
It may not always be obvious that a team member is struggling with stress, so it’s important to regularly check in with your colleagues. Here are just some of the key signs to keep in mind:
Loss of confidence, indecision and forgetfulness
Experiencing too much stress can make us doubt ourselves or question the decisions we make, which in turn can have a negative impact on our confidence at work. If someone in your team appears to be struggling with tasks or responsibilities that they’ve previously been able to perform well, it could mean something’s not right.
Likewise, forgetfulness at work shouldn’t be confused with thinking someone isn’t engaged with their role, or incapable of performing the tasks required – it could be a sign that they’re struggling and are in need of support.
Being irritable or argumentative
When stress is no longer healthy, it stops being a motivator and it can cause people to become prone to reacting differently to work situations.
Too much stress can cause us to become more argumentative or irritable, and can shorten our tempers. If a team member becomes snappy or communicates with others in a way that is out of character, stress could be the reason.
Working out of hours
Being able to switch off from work is important for good mental wellbeing. It allows us to focus on the other aspects of our lives, helping us to stay energised, motivated and productive when we are at work.
Be aware of any changes in a colleague’s behaviour that could indicate they are struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance. That includes coming in early, staying late and sending emails out of hours. Instead of indicating an increased commitment, a change in someone’s working hours can be a sign they are struggling with stress.
Mental Health Foundation research, published this week, suggests that a third of people (33 per cent) worry about work on their own time, so it’s important for managers to maintain a watchful eye and take action if they sense something’s wrong.
Constant tiredness or feeling unwell
We all feel under the weather from time to time, but many people don’t recognise the impact that stress has on our general wellbeing. Too much stress affects our sleep and energy levels, which can make us feel exhausted and worn out, often triggering headaches and stomach upsets.
The new research found that almost a quarter of employees (23 per cent) feel they compromise their mental or physical health. If you think stress could be affecting a member of your team, it’s important to address it quickly to stop the problem becoming worse.
Loss of humour
Lastly, too much or prolonged stress can cause people to become withdrawn, so it’s important to look out for more subtle changes in people’s routines or behaviours. For example, a team member who is usually sociable becoming reclusive and turning down opportunities to socialise, or someone who usually takes their lunch break to exercise and eat with colleagues becoming increasingly glued to their desk.
Jaan Madan is workplace lead at Mental Health First Aid England