National Stress Awareness Month:  how best to talk about workplace stress
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Nowadays, it is more important than ever to be able to spot the signs of stress and burnout in the workplace and offer support to your employees and tackle them as an employer.

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for the stresses we experience.  Many aspects of life can cause stress, with workplace stress being a major cause of absence.  Stress Awareness Month is a great opportunity for employers to consider their employees’ wellbeing and how they might support them with managing stress

We understand that these conversations can be difficult to have for both you and your employees, and so being prepared, if the situation arises, will help you put your best foot forward of an employee approaches you with stress or workplace burnout.

We know that you want to help your employees feel happy and productive, so here are some top tips of what to say and things to avoid if you need to have a conversation with an employee struggling with stress and battling burnout.

Try to,

Give your full attention and listening without judgement

Offer reassurance that you are there to listen. Try not to multitask and convey that they have your full attention in the conversation.

If you repeat back to them what they have said, you can then clarify how they feel and show that you are listening to what they have been saying. This will help build trust.

Empathic responses can show that you’re trying to understand their situation rather than showing pity. Saying something like “What can i do to alleviate your stress,” or “I’m sorry you are experiencing stress from work,” instead of “That must be tough,” may work better.

Choose the right environment

Consider who else is around in the workplace and could potentially overhear the conversation between you and your employee and try to find a place you won’t be overheard. it’s important to keep conversations about mental health and wellbeing confidential as they will usually include sensitive personal data, and you have a responsibility to keep this information safe and secure.

If you are talking over the phone or online, could you use headphones to accommodate as much as possible.

Ask your employee where they feel comfortable talking and try to accommodate as much as possible.

Ask open questions to open up the conversation

Ask open questions like “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed yourself lately, how are you feeling?”

This will hopefully encourage your employees to open up and talk about any issues and may prevent any helpful responses such as “I’m fine.”

Asking, “What do you think would help?” or “What can I do to help?”, may open up the discussion further and show you what they think they need. This will hopefully give you some useful information as you try to work out how best to help them.

Avoid if you can,

…challenging, comparing, or invalidating

When an employee comes and confides in you, if you can be sensitive and try not to silver-line their situation or make them feel they are wrong, this will usually help to make progress.

If you treat each employee as an individual and avoid comparing them to others in your team, that will help to avoid any sense that you’re invalidating their feelings or situation.

… reaching for a quick fix

What could help one employee might not be the best fix for another, so try to avoid just assuming that something that has worked for someone else in the past will work again now. There may be other ways to help or other resources that can support them.

… assuming you know the answers and can diagnose

We are increasingly vigilant and more educated on the signs and symptoms of different mental health issues.

As an employer taking the time to nurture your staff as well as running a business can be difficult, and competing pressures are a constant minefield. However, making sure your employees get the help they need early can be key to addressing any problems quickly, so if you can follow the steps we’ve highlighted and, if need be, signpost to possible resources for support, that may end up being a win-win for you both.

You’re not expected to know all the answers or to be an expert. There are lots of resources available to help employers if you’re not sure what might be best in any particular situation. for example, you could consider investing in offering an Employee Assistance Programme to your staff, so that they can access confidential and expert support independently of you if they wish.

Also, having a well thought out Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy in place, which can explain your approach to mental health in the workplace, and direct staff to other expert resources that could help them, can give staff another way of accessing information and help even before they have any conversations with you.

Listening and understanding an employee will let them know that you care and guiding them towards visiting their GP or seeking information from a charity such as Mind UK will often help them to feel well supported by you.


Have a look at our blog on avoiding burnout for more tips on how to spot the signs of workplace stress and burnout. And if you want to think about other more general approaches to reducing and preventing stress in the workplace, have a look at our blog on 10 ways to manage employee stress.

If you need any advice about managing your employees and helping them avoid burnout, get in touch on 0333 014 3888 or email for friendly, expert HR support.

The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.

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