Stress in the workplace is on the rise with the Health and Safety Executive stating that according to the Labour Force Survey “In 2014/15 stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.”
As a therapist who has worked with many people suffering with work related stress, I hear so often that they can feel very isolated, judged and embarrassed. So it’s really important that we make our colleagues feel that they have someone to turn to for support. There are some key signs that you can look out for that might suggest that your colleague could do with some support:
Have you noticed a change in their normal behaviour or mood? Have they become more irritable, more withdrawn or have their moods become unpredictable. When someone is stressed their ability to regulate their emotions can be affected.
Have they been complaining of physical symptoms? Stress impacts the body in different ways and can cause physical illness and difficulties, such as headaches, stomach problems, sickness, sleep problems, heart palpitations and tiredness.
Is there a change in their working routine? i.e. Are they consistently late or are they skipping breaks, lunchtimes? When someone is stressed it can impact on their routine. If there is a change in their working routine there could be many reasons for this, one of these could be work related stress. They may be struggling to keep on top of their work, so work longer hours or they may do the exact opposite and shy away from work.
Have you noticed a change in their appearance? When a person is stressed self-care can be one of the first things to go, so you might notice that they are not making the same effort with their appearance or it might be more subtle than this and they just look tired or have more closed body language.
Have you noticed your colleague using unhealthy coping mechanisms? Coping mechanisms like alcohol, excessive eating, smoking and other addictive behaviours could indicate stress in a colleague. If you notice an increase in your colleague’s smoking, drinking or eating habits they may benefit from some support.
Any of these signs may indicate your colleague is stressed and by identifying the signs of stress at an early stage, you can really help your colleague to take action that can deal with the symptoms and the underlying causes. In doing this they can minimise the impact on their mental and physical health, as well helping them to build their emotional resilience and their ability to feel happy in their role.
Approaching a colleague with your concerns about their stress might seem scary as mental health can still be a taboo subject, but it’s absolutely vital to cultivate a culture of openness in the workplace and it is helpful if this is led and encouraged by management teams. So how can you support your colleague? Here’s a few tips on supporting someone with stress:
Share what you have noticed By speaking with a colleague from a place of genuine concern and highlighting the changes you’ve seen in them in a compassionate way, you may help them to identify how they’re feeling.
Ask how you can help Rather than making them feel like there is something wrong with them ask them what they need. Ask if they would like your support. Don’t feel offended if they become defensive as there may be reasons for this.
Be prepared to listen Simply by giving your colleague the chance to talk openly could help them to feel calmer and more able to deal with their stress. Just being there for someone without trying to fix or change them can really make all the difference.
Support them in seeking help Speak to them about how they can access support, whether this is speaking with a manager, visiting their GP or accessing therapy. You might be the first person your colleague has spoken with so they might be more inclined to open up to others once they have with you.
Accessing professional support through a therapist can be really beneficial in dealing with stress. A therapist will help the person to identify the root causes of the stress and will then help them to develop their emotional resilience through effective coping mechanisms.