Your responsibilities as a manager

As a manager, you must help prevent stress in the workplace. Be aware of symptoms of stress among your employees, and take inquiries about stress seriously.

Get to know stress reactions and intervene

Get to know stress reactions, so you can act if an employee is showing signs of stress. Many people suffering from stress are unaware of their situation and do not react.

Talk to your employee if he or she has had symptoms of stress for a while, and if these symptoms seem to be continuing and the employee is not doing anything about it. The purpose of the conversation is to identify whether there is a problem, what the problem is, and whether the problem is work-related or personal.

Take time to listen and gently but directly say what you are concerned about. If you’re right about your assumptions, the employee will have to see a doctor.

Follow up regularly

Have regular, brief conversations with your employees to give feedback and help the individual employee prioritise work and discuss their workload. It’s important that you have a trustful relationship, so you can have an open and honest dialogue.

Take approaches about stress seriously

Always take approaches about stress seriously. Set aside time for an undisturbed talk. You can’t diagnose your employees, but you can encourage them to see a doctor or a psychologist if you see a need for it.

Talk to the person suffering from stress

Listen to the employee and ask about symptoms and what stresses the employee, for example:

  • The nature of tasks
  • Workflows, workplaces and/or working hours
  • Problems related to colleagues and/or management.

Find out whether the stress has been present for a short or long time, for example by asking about symptoms such as how the employee is sleeping at night, as this may be a good indicator.

Focus on work-related problems, where you can do something to create a balance between demands and resources. Remember that:

  • You are at a workplace
  • You have a manager-employee relationship.

Note that the person suffering from stress often has difficulty figuring out what is the cause and what is the effect. If the problem is personal, you can show support by offering the employee the possibility to talk about it.

It’s difficult to know how and how much you should interfere. There is no right or wrong, but it is important that, as a manager, you focus on the work-related problem.

Focus on causes and solutions

You and your employee should talk about what you believe is the cause of the stress, and what could lead to a solution. For instance, you can agree on what is expected and required of the person suffering from stress, make sure that he/she receives feedback and support to cope and adjust the workload.

How to help someone suffering from stress back to work

An employee on sick leave can return to his or her own job function or to another job function during their partial return to work. As far as possible, before deciding on this, it’s important to clarify whether the stress is related to the job function and/or other factors, such as the nature of the tasks, work procedures, workplaces and working hours or problems related to colleagues or management.

Early active intervention from the workplace

It’s a good idea to make an early active intervention for a person on sick leave. This means that you establish and gradually increase contact between the sick person and the workplace, and later cooperate with the sick person on a gradual return to work.

Studies show that people develop a positive or negative view of whether they will overcome their stress and return to work within the first two to four weeks of sick leave. If the person on sick leave experiences that useful initiatives have been launched, the symptoms will abate. This is also when most people on sick leave have a positive wish and energy to cooperate actively.

When the employee returns to work, the immediate manager has an important responsibility to establish a clear framework for the work. You can help prioritise tasks, establish clarity about expectations and remember to give feedback. Furthermore, it’s important to follow up on an employee who has returned from a period on sick leave. A full return can easily take three to four months or even longer.

Other employees should also know about agreements regarding specific work-related conditions for the relevant employee.

Prevent stress at the shop

Learn about and act on stress symptoms

If you know about stress symptoms, you can act early on. People suffering from stress often don’t see the symptoms themselves. It’s a good idea to suggest a talk if the employee has had symptoms for a while, for example changes in behaviour, if these symptoms seem to be continuing and the employee does not actively do something about it or approach you.

The talk can identify whether there is a problem, and whether the problem is work-related or personal. Make sure that you can talk without being interrupted and take time to listen. Make it clear what worries you. Be direct yet gentle. If your suspicions are confirmed, you should encourage the employee to see a doctor.

Signs of stress

Stress manifests itself in different ways, and many signs of stress are difficult to see. As a manager you should be attentive to changes in everyday behaviour.  Visible warning signs include:

  • Increased absence and sporadic absence
  • Missed deadlines
  • Poorer performance of tasks and poorer results
  • More mistakes
  • Mood swings, angry outbursts and tearfulness
  • Isolation.

Furthermore, there are the symptoms that do aren’t immediately apparent. If you recognise some of these symptoms, and if the symptoms are frequent or have been there for more than a month, you should take them seriously.

A supportive workplace culture

It’s important to create a culture in which you support each other and have a safe and trusting environment, in which you can talk openly, honestly and constructively about problems. Praise and appreciation are also important, but it’s also about respecting one another and being able to say, “I’m OK – you’re OK”.

Social support comes from managers and colleagues, it can be psychological – “We’ll get through this together” – and practical in the form of help to carry out a task. Generally, it’s about adjusting your support and management to the individual person.

Management style is important for how you give feedback and sparring, and for how you balance demands and expectations.

Make a joint agreement

We react differently to stress. Therefore, you must be able to talk openly about symptoms of stress. With an open dialogue, you can react to conditions that lead to stress, so that it doesn’t become long-term and harmful.

Not everyone sees everything, so you’re dependent on action from the individual or close colleagues. For example, you can:

  • Have an open-door policy.
  • Support employees to prioritise and plan tasks.
  • Match what you both expect with respect to workload and quality.
  • Provide support and advice for specific tasks.
  • Give constructive feedback and recognition.
  • Make sure there is a clear division of responsibility.
  • Establish clear procedures for handling difficult customers.
  • Establish clear procedures for situations with understaffing, define ‘can’ and ‘must’ tasks.
  • Ensure adequate training of new employees.
  • Agree together that:
    • Employees come to you if they experience symptoms of stress.
    • This is not a sign of weakness; it’s the sensible thing to do.
    • Employees react when they are worried about a colleague. Either directly to the person in question or to a manager. This is not talking behind their back.
    • You will take all approaches seriously.

If you're experiencing stress yourself

As a manager you’re naturally at risk of becoming affected by stress. In principle, you should react to stress in the same way as your employees.

Last revised at Monday, February 26, 2024