Stress – what can you do as a manager?

As a manager – particularly if you have staff who report to you – you play a key role in relation to preventing unhealthy stress and taking action to tackle stress when and if it becomes a problem in your team or for an individual staff member.

On this page, you’ll find help and inspiration on steps you can take to prevent, detect and tackle unhealthy stress. It’s helpful to think about stress in terms of three zones: the well-being zone, the risk zone and the danger zone.


Balance and well-being

Temporary short periods of stress

What can you do to promote well-being and prevent stress?

  • know what stress is, what typically causes it and how it typically develops, and what you as a manager can do to prevent it
  • provide clarity and alignment on priorities and performance, check in with staff about their workload, motivation, well-being and collaboration, both individually and as a group
  • contribute to creating a culture in which team members have access to mutual support, assistance and guidance from colleagues and their manager
  • focus on ensuring a culture of constructive communication and working to prevent and manage conflicts
  • contribute to creating a culture in which openness about both successes and challenges is encouraged – create a space in which staff feel free to talk about mistakes by setting an example and speaking openly about your own doubts, mistakes or challenges
  • make sure that the department/unit’s procedures for working with well-being and stress prevention are clear and brought into focus on an ongoing basis


Imbalance over a longer period of time

Physical and psychological symptoms with negative consequences for productivity and well-being

What can you do to detect and respond to stress?

  • be attentive to any signs that your staff are not thriving, both as individuals and in the unit as a whole, through one-on-one dialogues and daily observation
  • if you are concerned about a staff member, discuss it with them
  • if a staff member is experiencing stress, explore what factors are contributing so that you can make a plan to lighten the load or reallocate tasks. Inform them of the option of getting psychological counselling and encourage them to consult their general practitioner
  • monitor how well the plan is working and adjust it as needed
  • find out if other staff in the unit are also experiencing stress and need your help
  • remember that stress is not purely an individual problem; it is a shared problem that may stem from unclear roles, responsibilities, expectations, conflicting demands, the workplace culture and other issues. 
  • if the staff is experiencing stress due to general structural problems in the workplace, you as a manager should work on improving working conditions as much as possible (perhaps in collaboration with the occupational health and safety and union representatives)


Intense, chronic overload

Increasingly severe symptoms and acute risk to health and work performance

How can you help a staff member suffering from severe stress?

  • start the process of getting relevant support by encouraging them to contact:
       1. their general practitioner
       2. AU’s psychological counselling service
  • in the event the staff member takes sick leave, agree on what to tell colleagues, and agree on the frequency and kind of contact with them during their sick leave
  • agree to follow up during the sick leave and follow AU’s procedures for dealing with absence due to illness
  • together with the staff member on sick leave, plan a phased return to work and a gradual increase in tasks, with an eye for their scope and complexity
  • help the team prioritise their tasks while their colleague is on sick leave – find out if anyone else is under pressure, and explore what you as a manage can do to tackle this/prevent stress in the unit
  • where relevant, involve the occupational health and safety and union representatives in identifying any workplace conditions that might lead to stress, and work to improve these conditions

Further information and inspiration: