Helping a team member with stress


Let’s face it, we all have stressful days. A little bit of stress can be helpful—it can motivate us to meet a deadline or finally get around to that annoying task we’ve been avoiding.

Stress can be so common in the workplace that it can be hard to know when your workmates are experiencing too much of it. Over 70 percent of us feel that stress is having at least some impact on our physical and mental health. So, what are some of the things to look out for?

Signs your workmate may be under too much stress

  • Being tired all the time
  • Having a short fuse – reacting badly when asked to perform reasonable tasks
  • Constantly coming in late
  • Regular sick days
  • Constantly questioning their own work, losing confidence
  • Losing memory or constantly seeming distracted.

There are also workplace factors that can impact on stress

  • Working long hours, working through lunch all the time, taking work home
  • Job insecurity and lack of clarity around your role
  • Limited control over how you do your work
  • Work that requires high-level decision making or is mentally demanding
  • Poorly managed change within the organisation
  • Bullying or discrimination in the workplace
  • Lack of reward or recognition for work
  • Poor communication or conflict with colleagues or managers.

If you spot someone in your team or at work who you think might be experiencing stress or seems overwhelmed, it’s important to remember that’s not up to you to diagnose their issue. Asking them if there’s anything you can do is a great first step in helping them cope with stress.

How to start a conversation

  • Plan the conversation – consider what support is available in your workplace, like an employee assistance program (EAP), or refer to organisations like Heads Up.
  • Choose a time that’s relatively private and where your workmate will feel comfortable.
  • Guide the conversation with caring, open-ended questions like: ‘How are you going?’ or, ‘What’s been happening?’.
  • Listen to the person talk rather than offer your opinion, and don’t rush to solve problems for them.
  • Encourage action and support them to start a conversation with their manager, if they’re comfortable.
  • Let them know they can speak to you again, if they want to.

Tips that may help alleviate stress at work

If you do find your workmate is struggling, there are some things you can suggest to them or your manager that may help.

  • Think about what you can do, rather than what you can’t. Helping someone develop their own solutions to problems can give them a greater sense of control and make stressful situations seem more manageable.
  • Find ways to help take the pressure off. Help build a culture in your team where it’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes. Discuss ways that you can spread the workload within your team, and make regular times to check in with each other.
  • Maintain a healthy balance of work and leisure. Encourage people in your team have enough time to relax each day, and try to limit overtime, working through lunch and taking work home.
  • Form a support crew. Help your workmate identify who they feel comfortable in confiding in, both inside and outside the workplace. If possible, get their manager on board.

Where to get help

If you feel your colleague may need professional assistance, their GP is often a good place to start. You can also point them in the direction of available resources, such as an employee assistance program (EAP) and reputable health services such as beyondblue ( or Lifeline (13 11 14 or


Australian Psychological Society (APS). Stress and wellbeing in Australia survey 2014 [Online] 2014 [Accessed Sept 2017] Available from:

Heads Up. Workplace stressors [Online; last accessed Sept 2017] Available from:

healthdirect. Stress symptoms [Online; last updated Aug 2015, accessed Sept 2017] Available from: