According to a report by the Mental Health Foundation, a third of people in Britain have experienced thoughts or feelings of a suicidal nature. This is largely attributed to the growing number of people facing an unchecked stress epidemic.

Surveying 4,500 people regarding stress at the workplace revealed that millennials often feel the pressure and tend to feel increased levels of stress due to work, compared to their older peers. Many also feel that working through the stress is a given and is something expected of them from their employer. The survey also revealed that around a third of millennials noted that stress makes them less productive whilst at work, whereas only a fifth of their older counterparts felt the same way.

Management and stress

Within the MHF report, data revealed that across both generations of workers, only 14% of those surveyed felt comfortable confiding in their manager about their stress levels. Therefore, it is absolutely critical for businesses to implement workplace leadership training that ensures managers are able to maintain the wellbeing of their team and implement a support system.

How can managers recognise symptoms of stress in their employees?

Understanding the symptoms of stress can remove the need for employees to approach management themselves. If a manager is able to spot the ‘classic’ signs of stress then they will be better able to more closely manage their team and position themselves as a listening ear.

Key traits of a stressed employee can include; overly sensitive behaviour when it comes to criticism such as reacting in an angry or irritable way in realistic situations, a decreased self-confidence and a lack of motivation.

Management should also be on the lookout for changes such as working longer hours, refusal or failure to take breaks, taking more time off, not joining in with group conversations or jokes and failing to hit targets.

A stressed employee may also be more susceptible to colds and illness, exhibit signs of exhaustion or severe tiredness, loose or gain weight rapidly and generally appear unkempt and dishevelled.

Approaching the subject of stress

In order to approach a member of staff about stress, first, you as a manager must consider the best way to communicate with them as this will differ from person to person. Employees are not obliged to confide in their managers and may not wish to speak to you, but it is important to offer the option and ensure that they are aware that they can discuss any mental health-related issues with you, with no judgement. It is important to ensure that this conversation occurs in private and is carried out discreetly, with special effort made to not draw too much attention to the individual.

If the employee's attitudes or behaviours have changed or even if workloads are not being met, you could bring this up as a basis for asking if there are any problems and if there are any ways in which you can support the situation, such as relieving workloads or amended schedules.

You may also wish to refer them to human resources and offer to arrange an informal meeting which allows all three of you to have an open conversation. This is a great opportunity to discuss what the business can do to offer support and can further build alternative ways of working for the future, not just for the individual but for everyone.

Overall, it is important that you do not try to diagnose your colleague or employee and do not presume their feelings. Ensure that you keep questions neutral and open-ended to provide an environment that doesn't feel hostile or even more stressful

Creating a better workplace

A workplace must be somewhere that an employee is happy to spend their day. A work environment does not need to be anything exceptional but should tick off the basics of being comfortable, free of dirt, clutter, excessive noise and unpleasant people exhibiting negative behaviours.

Staff bonding is crucial to developing a team mentality that is collaborative and happy, it also builds better working relationships and allows colleagues to find more common ground in order to cooperate more effectively together. Negative attitudes or cliques can lead to stress for those on the receiving end of these behaviours. Any signs or reports of bullying or exclusionary behaviours should quickly be addressed as this can lead to a number of mental health issues, including stress. Through nurturing a negative environment, which tolerates the bullying of other employees, can result in high staff turnover, low morale and interpersonal conflicts which can quickly spiral out of control.

Finally, more and more workplaces are implementing flexible working arrangements. Often, it’s not the work that results in stress-related illness, but the working hours and the inflexibility of them in relation to other responsibilities. Many people suffer stress due to the 9 to 5:30 stiffness of many companies, with those who allow their employees to work remotely and manage their own hours, often seeing their staff experience lower levels of stress. this is typically due to the ability to better maintain a balance between their work and personal life. As with some jobs, remote or flexible working is simply not possible, but where employees can work in this way, companies can see an improvement in employee well-being, productivity and overall happiness in the workplace.