How to Spot Wellbeing Red Flags at Work

We continue to live through challenging times as the effects of the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns has meant we have all had to make adjustments in our life. The loss of loved ones, social isolation and changes of circumstances has dramatically worsened many people’s mental heath and emotional wellbeing. 

Additionally, changes in the workplace has affected us all. Many people are working from home, isolated from colleagues and struggling to balance work and home schooling. The pandemic has also caused significant strain and stress on those that are working frontline jobs. This has impacted a lot of people’s wellbeing at work whether that is due to stress, burnout or uncertainty.   

We all experience different responses to change and difficult situations. However, it’s good to be aware of typical signs that a colleague is struggling and needs support.   

If you’re worried about a colleague’s wellbeing then ask how they are doing more than once. This allows them to give a more thoughtful answer and provide a clearer insight into how they are feeling. 

Here are some red flags to look out for to suggest that a colleague isn’t coping well:  


Sighing can be a physical reaction to regulate breathing during times of stress and anxiety. It is often a non-verbal sign of feelings of upset and distress. If a colleague is regularly sighing, then it could be a subconscious message expressing negative feelings without them having to verbally discuss it. 

"I'm Alright"

If a colleague responds to questions about their wellbeing with phrases such as “I’m alright” or “I’m fine”, then this could be a sign that they are struggling. They could be hiding how they are really feeling because they feel uncomfortable sharing these thoughts in the workplace 


For many of us, living in lockdown can be exhausting and it’s extremely easy to suffer burnout which shouldn’t be ignored. Exhaustion can also be a sign that someone is struggling with their mental health and it is affecting their ability to sleep.  

Feeling Overwhelmed

If a colleague is feeling overwhelmed, then they may look concerned or anxious when they are given new tasks. This could be because they are running low on energy, time or capacity. If you notice someone appearing to struggle with their workload, try to offer help or support to minimise any overwhelming feelings.   


Irritability or curtness can be an unintended outburst during times of stress and a true reflection of how they are feeling. Try to be understanding of colleagues who show signs of irritability. If they don’t want to discuss it at the time, then give them space and offer your support at a calmer time.  


If you notice that a person is withdrawing from any work tasks or activities, then it could be a sign that they are struggling. In the workplace, this could include avoiding meetings or keeping their camera and microphone off. Although they could just be busy, it’s always good to check in with people to make sure things are OK.  


Poor memory and an inability to concentrate can be a sign someone is struggling with their mental health. Mood changes, anxiety and restless sleep are all causes of poor memory. It could also be a sign a person is feeling overwhelmed at work. 


If a colleague is apologising a lot or for unnecessary reasons, then this could be a red flag that they are struggling. This is because poor mental health can cause low self-esteem or it could be a response to any anxiety they are feeling. 


Further Reading

Nobody should feel alone if they are experiencing distress or anxiety in the workplace. Have a look at these resources for different regulations to implement at work or for tips on how to deal with these negative feelings: 

Headspace for work is a science-backed mindfulness and meditation tool for the workplace that can lead to a healthier organisation and happier employees 

To find out more about workplace wellbeing, visit the Mind webpage. Mind provides information on what organisations can and should do to support their employees. There are also tips and advice on how to cope when you are experiencing stress or burnout. 

For more information about research into wellbeing in the workplace and regular blog content about managing mental health at work, visit Acas for their knowledge and rules and best practice for good mental health.