Spotting the signs of stressed staff
Lauren Parsons shares her nine signs for recognising when things aren’t going well for your employees’ mental state. As a leader it’s vital you stay aware of how your staff are doing and know the signs to look for that could indicate mental distress. In 2021, researchers at AUT found that burnout had tripled – […]
Lauren Parsons shares her nine signs for recognising when things aren’t going well for your employees’ mental state.
As a leader it’s vital you stay aware of how your staff are doing and know the signs to look for that could indicate mental distress.
In 2021, researchers at AUT found that burnout had tripled – from one in nine Kiwis in early 2020, to just one in three. Depression is also on the rise, with one in four New Zealanders now experiencing a mental health challenge.
So, it’s clear that you’ll highly likely have staff within your team who are struggling at times. Putting your head in the sand and ignoring this only exacerbates the challenge.
Withdrawal, sadness, anger and outbursts are commonly-known signs to watch for. The following are some of the other signs that may not always immediately come to mind.
Nine signs to look for
Get to know your staff well so you can notice any change in mood or behaviour. If someone is naturally quiet or reserved that’s not necessarily a warning sign. Look for changes. For example, those who are normally outgoing becoming withdrawn, or the opposite.
A lack of grooming, or no longer taking care of how they appear can be a sign. I can recall this personally many years ago when I was in a workaholic phase and not in a good head space. I would dress all in black, tie my hair in the same bun every day so I didn’t have to style it, and never wore make-up. It was a symptom of feeling overwhelmed and lacking time or effort to even do the basics. Wearing black certainly isn’t a ‘sign’, but seeing changes in people’s standards of personal grooming is.
3. Lack of interests
Take note if your staff are no longer taking part in the hobbies they used to. If you ask how their painting is going, what’s growing in the garden or where they’ve been mountain biking lately, and they respond in a flat uninterested way or say that they haven’t made time for it lately, that’s a sign to watch for.
4. Change in decision-making ability
There are two ends of a spectrum with this one. Watch for people being overly rash and making lots of hasty decisions. Also watch for people being excessively indecisive, procrastinating or having an inability to make decisions.
Sometimes people speed up their pace in an attempt to try and fit more in, and stop themselves reflecting on how they feel. They can appear ‘hyper’ in their actions and their speech.
People might lack the ability to control their emotions, becoming upset for seemingly no reason. At the other end of the spectrum, people may seem overly controlled, or stoic and not displaying any emotion. Trying to hold everything in.
Becoming forgetful and missing small day-to-day things can be a sign. Ongoing stress interferes with the brain’s ability to think clearly. It impacts on decision-making, reasoning and memory. Watch for confusion or regularly forgetting things.
8. More frequently unwell
Ongoing mental distress can suppress the body’s immune system function. Take note if you hear staff complaining of ongoing minor illnesses or are increasingly taking sick leave.
Take note if normally sociable people withdraw and avoid colleagues. Sometimes people can become irritable, angry or cynical. Listen for the language that’s used.
It’s so important to know your staff well, so you can notice any changes in behaviour. I recommend setting up a network of ‘Well-being Champions’ who are trained to spot the signs of distress, share support and stay strong themselves. I’ve seen the benefits of this greatly enhancing workplace culture, improving team dynamics and staff retention.
Equally important, is being able to be authentic and real about your own struggles. When leaders have the courage to be vulnerable and able to say things like “I feel really under the pump at the moment”, “It’s been a tough week”, or “I’m not sure what the best option is – what do you think?” this sets the example to staff that it’s actually OK to be real at work.
Are you a Tower or Bamboo?
Are you strong enough to be what I call a ‘bamboo leader’ – organic, real and flexible, rather than a ‘tower leader’ – stoic, artificial and holding everything behind an artificial facade. If you always wear the ‘I’m fine’ mask it’s hard for your staff to relate.
Studies show that leadership stoicism can increase mental health problems within teams. Instead, we need to be transparent and ‘real’ as leaders.
Some people may fear this will lead to disrespect, but in fact the opposite is true. The more you can share openly, the more staff will respect you for it and the more they’ll be able to share with you in return, which means you can help them before things snowball.
Rather than causing the ‘floodgates to open’, setting an authentic example builds psychological safety, creating a high-trust environment where people can speak their mind respectfully and share their feelings. Doing so regularly means things don’t build up behind a barrage, ready to crack at some point.
When you open up, others will follow your lead, which has huge benefits. It may not always be comfortable or easy, but it’s definitely positive.
You don’t need to solve people’s problems. Simply being listened to and feeling heard and validated helps resolve mental distress.
Staff may also be able to give you examples. Let’s say they feel anxiety in certain situations – they can alert you to the triggers. You can then take care to give them the meeting agenda early so they can digest it, or avoid singling them out for praise in public, as you now know what works best for them.
Knowledge is a power and it will help you ensure the workplace environment is structured to help your team members be at their best. That benefits everyone.
If you or someone you know needs further help, reach out. Don’t try to solve everything on your own. If you need to talk, free-call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor. To call Lifeline dial 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free-text 4357 (HELP).
Lauren Parsons is a well-being specialist. Visit www.LaurenParsonsWellbeing.com