How to effectively manage employee stress in the workplace

Category: Better Mood | Author: Elly Prior | First published: 18-03-2011 | Modified: 05-12-2017

Improving your emotional intelligence

I wonder if this is you... You were promoted or you set up your own company/business and suddenly - or over time - you've found yourself in charge of a team of people. Stress management in the workplace and employee burn-out were probably the last things on your mind.

You felt great! You could do the job, run your own company, expand your business, manage that team... all of this even if you felt apprehensive at first. If you weren't already, you quickly became familiar with the systems and processes.

So, when someone knocked on your door to ask for advice, that felt good. Until perhaps you realised what was actually expected of you.

I have on my site a number of articles with information on communication skills. Reading these and also the pages about depression, stress, anger and many others will help to increase your emotional intelligence. The information will help to equip you so that you're able to provide this aspect of your 'duty of care'. This will be particularly helpful if, in the past, you've struggled to support staff suffering from burn-out, nervous breakdowns, depression and relationship problems.

If you haven't struggled with employee burn-out, have never given it a thought or couldn't care less, please do just read this article. Don't let yourself turn into another Ralph.

Of course, I hope you do care about the welfare of your employees! Happy workers are more likely to make happy partners and more considerate parents, friends, carers, etc - you name it.  Your care will create a ripple effect of positive energy. I know - I've worked for a large organisation.

If you're thinking about how you communicate with your staff, you may also be interested in my page on how to interpret body language.

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Stress management in the workplace

I suspect it didn't take long for you to realise that your qualifications and the fact that you'd been judged (or you'd judged yourself) suitable for the role hadn't prepared you for dealing with 'people problems' and managing their stress (let alone your own!).

That person knocking on your door asking if they could speak to you may not have wanted to discuss their workload, colleagues, systems or processes.

Perhaps they sat down and, probably without much of a warning, burst into tears (yes ... men too!). You may even have had to deal with this during a staff or performance appraisal.

Suddenly you're confronted with a story about...

... what a partner is doing
... what a wayward teenager has been up to
... how a visit to the doctor or specialist suddenly changed a life
... how their depression is getting the better of them
... or worries about heading for a nervous breakdown

If your employees do break down in your office, you're actually doing well - even if you feel out of your depth. If your employees never present themselves with their personal problems, you need to worry - they're more likely to ring in sick, feel miserable at work, and be less positive and/or productive.

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You may be well aware that life throws 'stuff' at us. However, you may not necessarily have been prepared to handle your staff's issues.

Another scenario is that you've arrived in a department and, unbeknown to you, you have some 'difficult' people on your team - or so you're told.

All in all - managing stress in the workplace is a skill that can mostly be learned - at least some of it. If you know that people skills aren't really your forte, then do yourself and your employees a favour - appoint someone who is an expert.  However, before we go on, have a look at how different it can be...

So, you're now having to support your employees who have come with all sorts of mental and emotional challenges. Ignoring and ignorance aren't a solution, so I hope you'll read on...

Managing people with stress and depression

Here's an overview of some of the most common issues any of your employees may suffer with at any given time. Further down, you'll find my tips on how you can manage stress in the workplace, and support your team whenever necessary.

Dealing with 'life'

Your team members/employees may be dealing with some difficult issues in their lives. As a result, they may not bound into the office in the morning.  

However, give them a few months whilst they're dealing with whatever has affected them, and you'll probably find that they'll be back to their old selves again.

Also, do read my article with essential tips reduce stress.


You may have one person (or two, or ...) on your team who is on antidepressants, perhaps long term. They may even talk about their depression. Perhaps they have a tendency to see the glass as half-full. Depression can be categorised as a severe mental health problem.

(Personally, as a professional counsellor, I think it's worrying if someone is on antidepressants and hasn't been given (or hasn't taken) an opportunity to discover alternative ways of getting well again.)

If someone who's normally the life and soul of the office suddenly becomes quiet and withdrawn, it may be a warning sign of depression. Don't panic, though - just keep an eye out and pay them extra attention, if it's appreciated.

I'd really like you to read my pages on depression to increase your own emotional intelligence. Your knowledge and understanding will make you more approachable and better able to deal with your employees appropriately.

Believe me - it will make a huge difference when it comes to keeping your staff at work and remaining a productive member of your team.


You may also have someone who is normally happy-go-lucky. However, all of a sudden, their productivity has gone down. They're not talking much, their sick leave has gone up and they may seem generally anxious. You're probably left wondering what's up and how you're going to handle that.

Then there are people who have 'trait anxiety' - a genetic pre-disposition to be anxious about all sorts. They need lots of reassurance, even to the extent that you and their colleagues get fed up with constantly having to acknowledge that they're doing OK.

Or you might panic when thinking how on earth you can tell them that they need to do better, without it turning into a major drama. However, in the right role, they can make an enormous contribution to your team or company - because they'll figure out what can go wrong!

Nervous breakdown

You can also see an employee or team member slowly go downhill. Bit by bit, life seems to become more difficult for him or her. If they have problems at home, be that relationship problems or anything else, you can expect problems at work.  

Part of your role with regard to stress management in the workplace is to offer support. This is absolutely vital, particularly in this situation. The right actions can prevent long-term absenteeism due to an employee having a nervous breakdown.

When someone presents with a mental breakdown, it may be the result of work-related stress too. Employee burn-out, caused by the pressures put on someone in your name, could get you into trouble under health and safety laws.

You have a duty of care for your employees. But even in spite of this, it makes moral and economical sense to look after your staff - they are the most valuable resource you have!

Make it your business to ensure that your employees don't suffer from burn-out. The benefit will be that your staff will want to work for you, will have less time off work and will be more likely to be more creative and productive.

Other mental health problems

Whether you have a member of your team suffering from depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD or any other mental health problem, your best bet is to inform yourself about the relevant condition by visiting the National Institute for Mental Health website.  

Appropriate support for individuals with these kinds of challenges will ensure that you keep people at work, and that any related team issues remain manageable.

Managing employees' mental and emotional well-being

10 Tips to help you manage stress in the workplace

  1. Take the time to just listen (See Relationship Communication for advanced listening skills). Yep ... I know - you may well be too busy. However, taking the time to listen will very likely save you a lot of time in the long-run with an unproductive employee. It may also stop them taking a lot of time off sick further down the line.
  2. Be prepared to be flexible around a crisis. You'll be able to prevent people from taking long-term sick leave if you can give them some time off here and there to deal with a crisis. The 'crisis' is all too often related to marital problems, the ending of a relationship or problems with children.
  3. Be a good boss if there's been a death. If there's a death in the family, give compassionate leave. Be generous if it's a very close member of the family: give a few days here and there, not just one to attend the funeral. Consider giving your employee compassionate hours. They may be coping one minute and the next feel completely overwhelmed.
  4. Talk with the individual about what kind of help they've accessed. This is a good way of managing stress in the workplace, particularly for people who are frequently absent due to depression and/or anxiety. Have they had talking therapy? Have they been to their doctor? Are they talking to friends? Are they engaged in social activities?
  5. Expect good work if the problems aren't due to a crisis or death. Be understanding and supportive if you know your employee normally performs well and their current issues are time limited.
  6. Talk regularly with the person about what's going on and how you can help if the problems are likely to be long-term. Book the one-to-ones ahead of time and separate them from Personal Development Reviews. These extra sessions should be about support and what you can do to help him/her in the office/workplace. However, they're not counselling sessions and your staff member should be aware of the time limit at the start of your conversation.
  7. Plan ahead as much as possible, to prevent adding to any anxiety. The more settled and calm your member of staff is, the more productive he/she will be. As a result, you're likely to have fewer problems in the team. Clearly, your business may not be of a type where you can plan ahead. Be sure, though, that you appoint staff who thrive on deadlines. Employees with a more anxious disposition perform much better in a stable environment with a set routine.
  8. Run team stress management training events. You can also address problems with individuals indirectly by organising team events, such as stress management workshops in the workplace. Everyone benefits, and individuals have personal responsibility for what they take away from the session.
  9. Provide quality information on your intranet and consider including the HypnosisDownload search box. This will help your employees access fast, powerful and cost-effective help.
  10. Take good care of yourself! You too need to be able to survive, and you can make life easier for yourself. I so recommend downloading the Quiet Mind any time, any place hypnosis track to help you on your way.

What if someone isn't getting any better?

Generally, people are quite able to deal with their problems without it affecting their work too much. It's not necessary for you to worry if they choose not to talk to you about their personal problems. After all, they are entitled to their privacy.

However, if you're concerned about...  
... the quality of their work 
... their sickness absence
... their behaviour in the team or (most importantly)
... their personal safety...

... then you need to talk to them. Managing stresses in your business, department or team starts with that personal approach.

How to manage the risk of harm to self, and/or harm to others

8 Ways to ensure your employees' safety

If you're worried that someone is at risk of harming themselves, or others:

  1. You certainly need to have a conversation with that person
  2. Don't promise confidentiality
  3. Reassure the person that you'll only pass on vital information to get help for them immediately
  4. Share the information with someone you trust who can help you take action and share responsibility
  5. Don't leave your employee on their own
  6. Call someone who can come and collect your member of staff and take over their care - a partner, a family member or a friend
  7. Whilst waiting, ensure that your member of staff is away from glaring eyes
  8. Failing that, if you have no other option - take the person to a local mental health clinic or an Accident & Emergency Department

Occupational Health Department (You?) and stress

Do you have access to Occupational Health Advisers?  If someone doesn't want to talk and doesn't appear to be helping themselves, then a referral to the Occupational Health Department may be helpful.

But please do try not to make judgements about whether or not someone is helping themselves. It means different things to different people - and it's so important that you're supportive rather than critical.

Occupational health professionals are uniquely placed to advise you and your employee in order to achieve the best outcome for you both.

(On a side note, you might want to think about why your employee doesn't want to talk to you. Is it perhaps something to do with the way you deal with people?) 

If all else fails, then you'll need to manage the situation using the normal tools, procedures and processes. My guess is that you'll have formal procedures in place and of course the first option you can look at is a development plan, including further training.  Don't be tempted just to send the person for counselling, though - trust me, it really won't work.

Stressed, working OK, and no risk?

There's nothing you can do - or need to do - if your employee is clearly having a really tough time, but doesn't want to talk and is continuing to work well. They may be experiencing Relationship Problems, familial or personal challenges - but as long as they're doing OK at work, all you can do is to stay aware, and remain available in case they do ever want to talk.

Successfully managing stressed staff requires early intervention - by talking, managing their workload and fostering good relationships with colleagues. These steps will help to avoid long-term absenteeism.

Inspiring your staff and improving the bottom line

How do you improve the well-being of your staff? One of the best ways is to pay attention to the human givens (see links below). In the following video, Dan Pink highlights the value of ensuring that your employees can meet their need for a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

From my perspective, your staff will feel all the better for it and will be much more productive. Science, as well as the experience of companies like Google, prove that it increases productivity. Ultimately that will look good in your balance books or on your CV.

All of the above advice will help you to improve and embrace emotional intelligence in your business. Being able to respond to people's emotions will help you in your personal relationships too. It can also add to the 'bottom line' as you become more skilful in your business relationships.

Being able to read and understand people will make you a better negotiator - whether you're striving for that much-coveted business deal, funding for an extra member of staff or a salary increase. Emotional intelligence in business is a must!

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