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

Written by Louise Fernand
Apr 2, 2024

Louise is the Product Manager for Mental Health and Wellbeing at Red Cross Training responsible for the development of Mental Health at Work training products.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regards workplace stress as a major employment risk. As well as distress caused to individuals, a report by AXA UK and Centre for Business and Economic Research (Cebr) found that in 2022,  poor mental health cost the economy £28bn, an average of £1,300 per employee. 

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.

In this blog we identify how, as a manager or leader, you can recognise the signs of work-related stress 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 be interested in.

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 work-related stress.

3. Missed deadlines

If your team is 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?


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4. Reduced standard of work

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

5. Lateness or absence

Did you know that 17.1  million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2022/23?

Employees who arrive late on a regular basis or call in sick more than usual may be avoiding the workplace and the stressful sensations it brings. Although sickness absences 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 becoming easily irritable or aggravated, 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 work-related stress listed above, and it’s likely that many of us have experienced stress in our lives. As we’ve outlined, the symptoms 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.


What can I do next to prevent work-related stress and help build resilience?

Now you've identified the signs of work-related stress in your team, it's important to invest in training to help take a preventative and proactive approach to minimising and tackling stress. British Red Cross Training's Building team resilience course helps you build open communication in your team, promoting a supportive environment and equipping individuals with the skills to adapt, recover, and thrive in the face of challenges.


Start the conversation about Mental Health

Take the first step to creating a more supportive culture by downloading our free guide - Talking to employees about their mental health.

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Topics: Mental health & wellbeing

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