10 tell-tale signs of a worker under stress

Wirral mind coach and author Alison Blackler offers advice to employers on how to spot the tell-tale signs of an employee under stress

Stress, anxiety, pressure, woman, work, self-employed
It is important to be able to spot the tell-tale signs of stress among your employees


Since March we have been dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic and this has brought stress and upheaval into all of our lives.

Even before the virus arrived companies and organisations across the UK had been becoming more aware of stress in the workplace. Not only does it have a detrimental impact on individuals, it can also harm your business through lost productivity.

Today’s smart employers are focused on the wellbeing of their workforces. So the question is, are you employees struggling with stress – and are you able to spot it and act quickly?

Whether it stems from problems in or out of the workplace, spotting symptoms of stress is an important part of managing employees. Symptoms of stress will vary largely from employee-to-employee, so it is important not to generalise common symptoms and jump to conclusions.

Stress-related symptoms generally fall into three categories: emotional, mental and behavioural. Here are the 10 stress signs to look out for:

1 Working longer hours

Look out for employees who start to work later, are still logged on after a reasonable hour, or back again earlier. This could be a sign of an employee who is struggling with their workload. Of course, many employees work late or start early on a regular basis through choice and habit. This is more a cause for concern when such habits are out of character or a sudden change.

2 Increasingly irritable

An uplift in irritability, twitchiness and nervousness could be down to stress. Over the top reactions to commonplace comments or employees shying into a shell could be examples of this. Both need to be managed and spotted carefully while employees are working remotely.

3 Visibly tired

It is not unusual for people who are stressed to struggle sleeping at night. If you have an employee who appears visibly tired on a regular basis, or remarks that they are over tired – it could be a tell-tale stress signal.

4 Shying away

When stressed, employees might shy away to avoid drawing any attention to themselves. Again, this is something you will need to use your better judgement on. Some employees are naturally more introverted than others, but if an employee who is normally very loud and chatty begins isolating themselves, it could be a cause for concern. In this current climate, this may become obvious as they skip team on-line meetings or are unusually quiet on the calls.

5 Working through breaks

Similar to employees who suddenly start working earlier or late, employees who stop taking breaks and start using their lunch break to catch up on work could be stressed about their workload. This one is particularly difficult to manage if employees are working from home although encouraging them to simulate a normal working pattern is even more vital than before. The odd stop and chat in the office is missing, so we all need to think about how we break the day up and give our minds a rest.

6 Time off

Are any of your employees not booking time off? Reluctance to take entitled time off could be a sign that an employee is worried they will fall behind with their workload. Conversely, employees who start booking more time off than usual, may be avoiding the workplace to avoid the stressful sensations it gives them.

Employees who are reluctant to take time off may be suffering from stress


7 Concentration and memory lapses

An uncharacteristic lapse in memory and concentration could be an indicator of distraction caused by stress. Other symptoms might include increased confusion and indecisiveness. Being able to spot that an employee’s productivity has changed without feeling annoyed and therefore stressing them out further.

8 Overly sensitive

If an employee is stressed due to work, it is likely they will be increasingly sensitive and emotional – especially when it comes to work related chat. For example, passing comments or jokes about their performance that is normally water off a duck’s back, might strike a chord and really upset them if they are stressed.

9 Lack of energy

Stress can take both a mental and physical toll. If an employee who is normally full of beans begins displaying signs of constant lethargy and illness, this could be due to stress taking its toll on their physical wellbeing.

10 Socially isolating themselves

If work is the cause of an employee’s stress, they might begin to withdraw themselves from anything associated with work and just do a bare minimum. This is even more difficult to check while out-of-work activities are not happening, so employees can isolate themselves so easily.


This list is not exhaustive, and some employees may show various other signs of stress. In most cases, a Manager or Leader will need to use a judgement as to what behaviour constitutes cause for concern on a case-by-case basis.

The most important approach to any of these scenarios, is to ask, ask and keep asking. It is so common for stressed people to pretend, minimise and feel ashamed that they are struggling. Having someone pay appropriate attention, ask how they are doing, and what kind of support they need can make all the difference.

Alison Blackler has recently published her first self-help book, A Path Travelled. Click here for more details and to buy a copy.

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