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Workplace stress and anxiety: what to look out for

Posted in Employers on May 13, 2019 by Keeley Edge

In 2017, the prime minister commissioned an independent review into how employers can better support employees' mental health. The report showed that 15% of people in work had symptoms of an existing mental health issue. The estimated cost to employers is £33billion to £42billion per year, with the biggest costs occurring through presenteeism.

Despite these findings, some employers are still failing to look out for the mental wellbeing of their employees.

The 2017 report suggests that employers should:

  • Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  • Develop mental health awareness among employees
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  • Provide employees with good working conditions
  • Promote effective people management
  • Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing

We recommend you undergo proper mental health awareness training so you can better support your team and identify illness or potential issues sooner. In the meantime, here are a few things you can look out for that may indicate that an employee is struggling.  

Physical signs

Most mental health issues are difficult to spot as they aren’t physically visible like a bleeding nose or a broken arm. Even when employees do display symptoms, it can be difficult to judge whether they are having a bad day or if there is a more serious issue.


If an employee starts crying it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a mental health issue; they may just be frustrated, angry or upset about something that has happened. However, if one of your employees is unusually tearful or becoming extremely emotional about minor things, it could be a sign that there is something else going on.

Distracted or confused

When employees are anxious, stressed or depressed, they may become distracted. This can lead to silly mistakes and memory lapses. We all have bad days, but if you notice an employee who is not performing to their usual standard, find out if there is something playing on their mind.


If an employee is anxious or stressed about something, it could be keeping them awake at night. If you notice an employee who is regularly coming to work tired, find out what is preventing them from getting a good night sleep.

Panic attacks

Panic attacks can be absolutely terrifying for someone who has never experienced one. If an employee begins to shake, sweat, struggle to breathe, experience a choking sensation or feel as though they are having a heart attack, they may be experiencing a panic attack, and you should recommend they speak to their GP.

Behavioural signs

If an employee has become erratic or unreliable, don’t jump to conclusions about their work ethic. There could be an underlying mental health issue that needs addressing.

Anger or aggression

Workplace frustration is not unusual. However, if you have an employee who is constantly snapping at colleagues, losing their temper at the slightest things or becoming violent or threatening, then it could be stress-related.

Erratic or impulsive

If an employee has become unpredictable, is making impulsive decisions or is acting out of character, this could indicate bi-polar or schizophrenia which will require professional support. Encourage employees to speak to a doctor if they are taking an unusual amount of risks without considering the consequences.

Increased absence

If your employee is frequently calling in sick or turning up late for work, this could be a sign that there are problems in their personal life. Before moving straight to disciplinary action, find out if there is a way you can give them the support they need. If they have been a good employee up until this point, try to find a solution rather than washing your hands of them.

Managing workplace stress

The 2019 CIPD Simplyhealth report found that stress is one of the top three reasons for short-term absence. The two biggest contributors to workplace stress are heavy workloads and poor management. Both these issues can be reduced and even eliminated if you invest in training and developing your teams, especially your managers.

Part of what sets Key Appointments apart from our competitors is that we care about retention as well as recruitment. That’s why we’ve built up a fantastic network of specialist partners who can provide various types of training and support. This includes people management, time management and mental health awareness training.

We’d be delighted to connect you with our specialist training partners if you would like to reduce workplace stress and develop your people. If you’d like an introduction, contact our friendly team.

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