Managing Stress: Supporting Employees Who Are Signed Off Work with Stress

Signed off work with stress

Stress is a common issue that affects many employees in today’s fast-paced work environments. For some, the stress becomes overwhelming, leading to the need to take time off work. If you’re an employer, understanding how to support your employees during this challenging time is crucial for their recovery and the rest of your organisation’s wellbeing. This blog provides comprehensive guidance for both employees and employers on managing work-related stress and creating a supportive work environment.

Understanding Work-Related Stress

Work-related stress can stem from various factors, including high workloads, tight deadlines, lack of support, and workplace conflicts. Prolonged exposure to these stressors can lead to physical and mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and burnout. Recognising the signs of stress early can help you take the necessary steps to address it before it becomes overwhelming.

Common Signs of Work-Related Stress

  • Physical Symptoms: Headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.
  • Emotional Symptoms: Irritability, anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
  • Cognitive Symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and decreased decision-making ability.
  • Behavioural Symptoms: Changes in eating habits, increased use of alcohol or drugs, and withdrawal from social activities.

Employee Rights When Signed Off Work with Stress

If an employee is experiencing severe work-related stress, they may need to take time off to recover. Understanding their rights and the procedures involved is crucial to ensure they receive the support they need.

How to Get Signed Off Work with Stress

  1. Consult a GP: Employees feeling that stress is affecting their ability to work should schedule an appointment with their GP. They should be honest about their symptoms and how they impact their daily life. A GP can assess their condition and, if necessary, provide a fit note (formerly known as a sick note) that states they need time off work due to stress.
  2. Notify the Employer: Employees should inform their employer as soon as possible about their need to take time off work. They should provide the fit note from their GP. It’s essential to communicate openly and honestly about the situation to ensure they receive the appropriate support.
  3. Understand Sick Pay Entitlement: Employees should check their employment contract or speak with the HR department to understand their sick pay entitlement. In the UK, they may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or company sick pay, depending on the employer’s policy.

Legal Protections for Employees

In the UK, employees are protected by various laws that ensure their rights are upheld when signed off work with stress:

  • Equality Act 2010: Protects employees from discrimination based on mental health conditions. If stress is related to a mental health issue, employers must make reasonable adjustments to support them.
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974: Requires employers to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. This includes managing work-related stress and taking steps to reduce it.

Returning to Work After Stress Leave

Returning to work after being signed off with stress can be challenging for employees. Employers can play a vital role in ensuring a smooth transition back to work:

  1. Gradual Return: Consider a phased return to work, gradually increasing hours and workload. This approach can help employees adjust and manage any remaining stress.
  2. Reasonable Adjustments: Work with employees to identify any reasonable adjustments that can be made to support their return. This could include changes to workload, flexible working hours, or additional support from colleagues.
  3. Ongoing Support: Ensure employees have access to ongoing support, such as counselling services or employee assistance programmes. Regular check-ins with their manager can also help address any concerns and ensure their wellbeing is prioritised.

Supporting Employees During Their Time Off

Taking time off work due to stress provides employees an opportunity to focus on their wellbeing and recovery. Employers can support this process in several ways:

  1. Maintain Open Communication

Maintaining open lines of communication with employees who are signed off work with stress is crucial. Regularly check in with them to show that they are valued and missed. However, respect their need for privacy and avoid pressuring them to return to work before they are ready.

  1. Provide Resources and Support

Provide employees with information on available resources and support, such as mental health services, online counselling, and employee assistance programmes. Ensuring they have access to these resources can help them manage their stress and improve their mental health.

  1. Encourage Healthy Practices

Encourage employees to engage in healthy practices during their time off. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, practicing mindfulness, and staying connected with friends and family. Providing information on local support groups and wellness activities can also be beneficial.

Long-Term Strategies for Employers to Manage Workplace Stress

While supporting employees during their time off is essential, implementing long-term strategies to manage workplace stress can prevent future issues and promote a healthier work environment. Here are some tips for employers:

  1. Identify Stress Triggers

Conduct regular assessments to identify stress triggers within the workplace. This could involve employee surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one meetings. Understanding the root causes of stress allows employers to take targeted actions to address them.

  1. Foster a Positive Work Culture

Creating a positive work culture is crucial for managing stress. Encourage a culture of support and collaboration, where employees feel valued and respected. Recognise and celebrate achievements, promote work-life balance, and ensure that workloads are manageable.

  1. Promote Open Communication

Encourage open communication between employees and management. Create an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns and seeking support. Regular check-ins and feedback sessions can help address issues before they become overwhelming.

  1. Provide Mental Health Training

Provide mental health training for managers and employees to raise awareness and reduce stigma. Training can equip team members with the skills to recognise signs of stress and provide appropriate support. It can also empower employees to take proactive steps to manage their mental health. This is something we do at MindfulnessUK.

  1. Offer Flexible Working Arrangements

Flexible working arrangements, such as remote work, flexible hours, and job sharing, can help employees manage their personal and professional responsibilities more effectively. Offering flexibility can reduce stress and improve overall job satisfaction.

  1. Implement Employee Assistance Programmes

Implementing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can provide employees with access to confidential counselling and support services. EAPs can help employees manage stress, personal issues, and mental health concerns, contributing to their overall wellbeing.

  1. Encourage Physical Activity

Encouraging physical activity in the workplace can have significant benefits for employee mental health. Consider offering gym memberships, organising fitness challenges, or providing on-site yoga and exercise classes. Regular physical activity can help reduce stress, improve mood, and boost energy levels.

  1. Promote Work-Life Balance

Promote a healthy work-life balance by encouraging employees to take regular breaks, use their full holiday entitlement, and avoid working after hours. Flexible working arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, can also help employees manage their personal and professional responsibilities.

  1. Recognise and Reward Employees

Recognise and reward employees for their hard work and achievements. This could include formal awards, informal praise, or small tokens of appreciation. Recognition can boost morale and make employees feel valued and supported.

  1. Provide Professional Development Opportunities

Offer opportunities for professional growth and personal development through training programmes, workshops, and courses. Employees who feel they are growing and developing their skills are more engaged and motivated. Providing access to online learning platforms and encouraging employees to pursue courses that interest them can also support their development.

How MindfulnessUK Can Help

You may, at this point be wondering how MindfulnessUK fits into all of this. We specialise in corporate mindfulness training and wellbeing programmes tailored to the unique needs of SMBs. The JOY Programme is the results of 14+ years in the space and is designed to provide comprehensive solutions to improve workplace wellbeing. By incorporating mindfulness practices, physical wellness activities, mental health support, and team-building exercises, we help businesses create a healthier and more productive work environment.

A Wellbeing Programme That Suits Your Needs

We work with a select few of your individuals by putting them through our train-the-trainer programme. This works to everyone’s advantage as just a few members from each department need to take the down time to complete the training, but the entire team end up benefiting as these trained individuals will spread the necessary knowledge and practices into the daily lives of your staff and therefore build a culture of positive wellbeing and increasing every metric along with it. Having implemented it into other organisation’s we can now see the ongoing affect it has, even on new hires, allowing the culture benefits to resonate for long periods of time without the need for constant top-ups.

Ongoing Support and Evaluation

Our team provides ongoing support to ensure the successful implementation of wellbeing initiatives. We regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the programme and make adjustments as needed to ensure continuous improvement. This includes regular check-ins with your team, feedback surveys, and data analysis to track the impact of our initiatives on employee wellbeing and productivity.

Engaging Workshops and Training

Our engaging workshops and training sessions cover a wide range of topics, from stress management and mindfulness to nutrition and fitness. These sessions are designed to be interactive and practical, providing employees with valuable skills and knowledge. By making our workshops engaging and relevant, we ensure that employees are motivated to participate and apply what they learn in their daily lives.

Accessible Resources

We provide a range of accessible resources, including online courses, webinars, and downloadable materials, to support your employees’ wellbeing journey. These resources are available 24/7, making it easy for employees to access support whenever they need it. Our online platform includes a library of mental health resources, ensuring that support is always at their fingertips.

Building a Positive Workplace Culture

By integrating the JOY Programme into your business, you’ll be fostering a positive workplace culture that prioritises employee wellbeing. This cultural shift can lead to long-term benefits, including increased employee retention, enhanced reputation, and a more engaged workforce. A positive workplace culture not only improves employee satisfaction but also attracts top talent and enhances your company’s overall performance.


Managing stress and supporting employees who are signed off work with stress is crucial for maintaining their mental health and wellbeing. Understanding their rights, providing support, and implementing effective stress management strategies can help them navigate this challenging time. For employers, creating a supportive work environment and implementing long-term wellbeing initiatives can prevent future stress-related issues and promote a healthier, more productive workplace.

MindfulnessUK is here to support both employees and employers on this journey. Our JOY Programme offers comprehensive solutions tailored to the needs of SMBs, helping you foster a positive work environment and achieve long-term success. For more information on how the JOY Programme can benefit your business, visit Mindfulness UK today and take the first step towards transforming your workplace wellbeing.


About Karen Atkinson:

Karen has been teaching mindfulness and compassion for over 30-years and is the Co-founder and CEO of MindfulnessUK, an author of Compassionate Mindful Inquiry in Therapeutic Practice, a previous Chair of BAMBA, an international trainer and supervisor.




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