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Dealing with stress - talking to your staff

Step 1: Consider the context

Consider your management style and relationship with staff. Have you got a solid foundation with staff to address work related stress?

Step 2: Take notice: recognise the early warning signs of staff distress or low morale

The second step is about paying attention to your staff, noticing any changes in their usual behaviour or relationships.

While people naturally possess a huge range of personality traits, any unusual change should cause you to take notice.

Step 3: Take stock what you already know or should know

Take time to put the facts together from your point of view: are there obvious or known factors causing the stress? The Job Stress Risk Identification checklist can be used to help identify the causes and contributing factors to workplace stress.

However do not jump to conclusions, especially if you believe personal factors are the driving force.

Step 4: Consider what individual and organisational support options exist

This may include changes to the way the work is organised, additional support through a mentor or buddy, adjustments to work hours or duties or simply support through Employee Assistance Program.The Manager Stress Management Action Checklist will also help with the development and control measures.

Ensure that the staff member is fully involved in planning options and has co-ownership of job-related decisions.

Step 5: Seek assistance if you feel unable to provide positive support to the staff member

Help is available from Human Resources through your Client Partner.

If you personally have issues that may be affecting your work relationship with staff members you can seek assistance through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

If there has been a complaint made against you by the staff member, seek advice from your Human Resources Client Partner before any conversation.

Step 6: Plan the conversation

It is that first conversation that is likely to cause you the most anxiety. You may be concerned with invading the staff member's privacy, breaching professional protocols or opening yourself up to more personal information than you are comfortable hearing.

You can get assistance by:

Your comfort level can be increased by providing a non-judgmental, open way to discuss the changes the staff member has demonstrated. Starting with a phrase like, "I've noticed that you haven't been yourself lately. I'm worried about how you're doing," may provide an opening for the staff member to discuss their concerns.

Step 7: Prepare for the conversation

It's vital that you hear what the staff member has to say in response (see communication tools). That means keeping your mouth closed and your mind open.

Managers are rewarded for being analytical, directive, and decisive. These important skills can create obstacles when the desired outcome is to empower a staff member to access the help they need to get back on track. Managers need to understand the staff member's perspective clearly before trying to engage in problem solving. This is a huge deviation from normal management practices and most managers struggle with this skill.

Step 8: Having the conversation

Demonstrate empathy by expressing concern and assure the staff member that the conversation is private.

See communication tools for more guidance.

Step 9: Follow-up and taking action

Once you are able to accurately describe the situation from your staff member 's perspective, as manager, it's your job to find solutions at work.

This does not include assuming the role of therapist; in fact, this type of relationship with someone over whom you have power and control is unethical. Rather, you should focus on letting staff know about the support that is available through the University.

The role of the manager does include finding solutions within the work environment that enable the staff member to remain a productive member of the workforce (implementing needs-based problem solving). This may include collaborative and effective performance management or it may require an accommodation process. Where possible the focus should be on getting commitment rather than simply rigid compliance.

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