Branchefællesskabet for arbejdsmiljø

Occupational stress

Stress occurs when there is an imbalance between demands and resources over a longer period of time.  Stress caused by conditions at work is occupationally related and must be addressed at the workplace. Read more about understanding stress and what you can do as an employee, a manager or a member of the health and safety group to address it.

VIDEO - INSPIRATION FOR STAFF MEETING - watch this film and talk about how you can reduce stress in the daily work in your shop or store (in Danish with English subtitles).

Understanding stress

Stress occurs when there is an imbalance between demands and resources over a longer period of time.

How to deal with stress

You can prevent stress by looking at the balance between demands and resources in everyday activities.

For employees

For employees

Avoid becoming stressed

Create balance between demands and resources

Do you feel there is a balance between demands at work and your own resources? Try matching expectations with your manager, so that you know more precisely when a task has been completed satisfactorily.

Get to know your own signals

Get familiar with symptoms and warning signs –  react if you feel them. Visit your own doctor or talk to someone you trust. Write down your symptoms.

If the stress develops, you must act. First symptoms vary from person to person: Do you have problems sleeping? Are you forgetting things? Are you short-tempered?

Learn to say no

Talk to your manager if you can’t manage more tasks and ask for help to prioritise tasks. It’s important speak up if you’re feeling overburdened, others might not see it. The dialogue between you and your manager about your tasks is important so that together you can adjust your workload. You can use the model below to set your priorities:

Plan and prioritise your time

Start your day by getting an overview of your tasks and prioritise them, one  at a time. Be aware of time-consuming tasks and remember to take breaks. If your workload exceeds the time available, your manager can help you prioritise your tasks.

Also make sure that the distribution of roles is clear to avoid conflicts.

Never feel guilty. S say to yourself that you’re doing the best you can. It’s enough to write things down, prioritise tasks, and do one thing at a time. Learn to follow your gut feeling, and stand by your choices.

Make sure you have a network of colleagues, family and friends to help you in difficult situations and ask for support from your manager.

Strengthen your resilience
  • Eat regular and healthy meals and snacks.
  • Exercise regularly and get plenty of fresh air.
  • Make sure to get enough sleep (at least 7 hours).
  • Don’t work when you’re off.
  • Do something that unwinds and relaxes you.

Suffering from stress

When people become stressed and are sent on sick leave, they are often taken by surprise. However, stress can strike anyone, and stress is not a sign of weakness. Efforts taken by both you and your workplace are crucial to prevent the stress from sending you on sick leave. This means that you have to be aware of your own symptoms, and that your manager and your colleagues are aware of any changes in your behaviour.

Overcoming stress is often a lengthy process. However, the right measures from your doctor/psychologist and your workplace can get you back to work again.

How to manage your stress while you are on sick leave


Returning after stress

If you’re off sick with stress, it’s important that you plan your return to work in cooperation with your supervisor.

Timing is key. If you start too early, there is a serious risk of relapse. However, if you wait too long, there is a risk that you’ll lose confidence in yourself and never return. Some people start before they have completely recovered to maintain attachment to the labour market, while others would rather recover completely before returning. Talk to your general practitioner about when to start.

How to help a colleague suffering from stress

People suffering from stress are often unaware of their stress, and therefore they don’t think about getting help. Moreover, many people are embarrassed about not being able to cope with their jobs, or are worried about losing their job.

Prevent stress in your team

Read more

Related pages on Det du mærker

For managers

Your responsibilities as a manager

Find supplementary information about this topic in the sections:
If you are an employee and For health and safety groups.

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.

Read more in the If you are an employee tab.

Tools and links

Related pages on Det du mærker


For health and safety groups

The work of the health and safety group

If employees at the shop are showing symptoms of stress, you should go to the health and safety group.

  • If only one employee is stressed, this might be due to conditions in his or her job function or personal life.
  • If several employees are showing symptoms of stress, there is reason to pay extra attention: Conditions at the workplace may have to be changed.

Start by reading the Understanding stress section on this page. This provides basic information about what stress is, the causes of stress, and the most common symptoms of stress.

Read also the If you are a manager tab. This includes advice and ideas on how management (together with the health and safety group) can work specifically on preventing and dealing with stress.

The quick method

If you want to address the subject of stress at a small workplace, a simple staff meeting may be a good place to start. The meeting will help you put into words what stresses you and what prevents or relieves stress. At the end of the meeting, you can all assess whether there is a need to launch initiatives.

  • Watch the film about stress together.
  • Talk about the film: What is it like at our workplace?
  • What can we do to reduce stress?
Initiatives based on a health and safety risk assessment

In your health and safety risk assessment, you should map psychological working conditions, including factors which may lead to stress. The health and safety risk assessment will give you an indication of the seriousness of the stress problem.

There are several ways to conduct a health and safety risk assessment:

  • The dialogue method by which you identify the problems at a staff meeting and discuss causes and solutions together.
  • The questionnaire method by which you collect employees’ opinions and experiences in writing, and then find causes and solutions either in the health and safety group or at a staff meeting.

Tools and links

Related pages on Det du mærker