Supporting psychologically stressed employees

Providing appropriate support for employees who are experiencing psychological stress is one of the greatest challenges in leadership. When managers notice team members changing the way they work or behave, they should act.

Why should managers address conspicuous changes in behaviour?

Two businessmen having a discussion in an office

Managers often state that they find it difficult to judge when and whether they should address conspicuous changes in staff behaviour. This is understandable because the topic of mental health is very personal, and boundaries could be crossed. Managers should therefore maintain a professional stance in such situations. Nevertheless, they can also trust their perceptions when they notice changes. As a manager, one has a duty of care and, within this framework, stressed employees should be given the opportunity to talk and, should they so wish, to receive support. 

The increase in days of absence due to mental illness is one of the most striking developments in terms of sick leave indicators. Since 2010, the numbers of days of sick leave taken due to mental illness have increased by 56%.
DAK Health Report 2022 / Absence from Work Report 2021

What signs can indicate psychological stress?

If you notice significant changes in a team member’s behaviour, emotionality or way of working, keep an eye on them. In the case of psychological stress, changes are particularly common in the following areas: 

1. In work behaviour
If a team member begins to distance themselves from colleagues, takes fewer or no breaks and regularly works overtime, then you should start to pay attention. An increase in absence through short-term illness or frequent interruptions to work can also be indications of overload.
2. In performance
If a team member who usually performs consistently well suddenly begins to show wide fluctuations in performance or a high error rate, it could be due to severe fatigue. If you notice that tasks are falling by the wayside and that the person in question can't concentrate and seems preoccupied, offer them support.
3. In social behavior
In cases of severe overwork, a team member may be persistently tense, nervous, and agitated. Avoidance of conflict or high sensitivity to criticism may also indicate that help is needed.

How can you proceed as a manager?

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Address promptly
Don't let too much time pass if you feel one of your team members needs assistance.
a magnifying glass with a person
Describe observations
Describe neutrally what you have noticed without interpreting it. Then let the person in question classify these observations themselves.
Offer
assistance
Offer support when it is requested. However, also accept if the person in question wants to find a solution themselves.
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Confidentiality
 
Keep the conversation strictly confidential and only talk about it with the person involved.

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