Managing workload
Whakahaere hāpaitanga mahi

Understanding stress at work

Work-related stress: when work is a source of stress that causes us harm.

Work-related stress is different from just feeling challenged at work. It can become a serious health issue that can negatively affect both our mental and physical health. Things that cause us stress at work can often be out of our control, so we may not easily be able to manage it. Prolonged stress from work can lead to burnout.

When it comes to the workplace, NZDF has a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to manage the work environment. The situations that cause work-related stress can vary from person-to-person; so to help NZDF ensure work-related stress levels do not become harmful, it's important to let your manager know when you are experiencing high levels of stress.

If we're also going through a stressful time in our personal lives, this can reduce our overall tolerance for stress. If you are experiencing the symptoms of stress, it’s important to get help.

Work-related stress self-check

The effects of stress can vary from person-to-person.

Check whether you're experiencing any of these common scenarios. Do you…

  • Feel mentally drained by the end of a typical day?
  • Feel rushed, even when you are running on time?
  • Have trouble doing things at a slower pace, even when you have the time?
  • Tend to think about what's coming up in your day rather than being in the here and now?
  • Often want to be left alone when you get home?
  • Find yourself sighing a lot during the day?
  • Forget to take breaks because of pressure you feel under?
  • Find it difficult to relax even when you have free time?
  • Prefer activities that help you to zone out when you have free time?
  • Have trouble motivating yourself to do things that are healthy for you?
  • Feel exhausted by the end of the day most of the time?
  • Feel like you're multi-tasking even at home?
  • Tend to bring your work-stress home with you?
  • Have poor sleep, or often wake up at night and think about things that are stressing you out?
  • Notice that you get impatient and irritable about little things?
  • Often do tasks (like household tasks) without even thinking about them?
  • Feel like taking time to relax means you’ll fall behind on some duty or responsibility?
  • Have a sore stomach or headache often at work?
  • Avoid social interactions with co-workers, friends, or whānau?

If you experience a number of these on a regular basis, it is possible that your stress levels are building up and are having an impact on how you're functioning. Often this is subtle, and it’s only when we take a moment to stop and review how we are doing that we notice.

Dealing with work-related stress

Too much stress at work can take a toll on every aspect of your life. There are different strategies to deal with work stress, depending on the environment you're in.


  • Workplace Mental Health - all you need to know (for now)
  • Stop Chasing Purpose and Focus on Wellness

Dealing with work-related stress at home

Dealing with work-related stress when you are at work

Duty to reduce harm

At work, sometimes we have limited control over how things are managed. It’s important that our managers and command support us where possible.

A responsible workplace designs its roles and work to reduce the things that can cause us stress at work. NZDF has a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 2015 to provide a work environment that manages the risk of harm. This includes responsibility to protect personnel from harm at work, including psychological harm.

Sometimes it isn’t realistic to eliminate the causes of stress. In those cases, the NZDF has a responsibility to minimise these so far as reasonably practical - within the limits imposed in some cases, such as for NZDF operational activities (for which there are some exemptions from HSWA 2015).

The NZDF and our manager/commander can help us with:

DEMAND: our workload, deadlines, hours of work, work-life balance

CONTROL: how we do our job, and the freedom to make decisions with our work

SUPPORT: the resources available to us, access to information, communication

WORK RELATIONSHIPS: with our colleagues and manager or chain of command

ROLE: our working conditions, environment, culture, pay and benefits

CHANGE: when things change at work, our security in our role and team

There is a range of support services available to both military and civilian personnel and the broader defence community.

When seeking support, it’s important to talk to someone we trust and who can provide the support we need. Sometimes the first person we go to isn’t the right one - if you find you don’t get the support you need the first time around, try someone else. Your needs are important and there will be someone who can provide the support or guidance you need, whether it be around managing workloads, relationships, mental or physical health concerns, family support or guidance on lifestyle changes.

A range of support services are available internally. If you are feeling overloaded at work, if you can - speak to your manager. 

If you need some support check in with the social worker or chaplain.

Or if you are not comfortable reaching out for support internally you can access confidential wellbeing support advice on any issue through NZDF4U Wellbeing Support.

Help someone else

If I see someone is stressed about work, how can I help?

  1. Ask how they’re doing. Sometimes a simple “how are you?” can be enough to get them talking about how they're going and allow you to discuss support options.
  2. Let them talk. Being a sounding board for someone can make all the difference. When we are going through a hard time, it helps to have our experience validated and be able to share how we're feeling without judgement.
  3. Ask how you can help support them. People usually have a general idea about what they need in that moment, but sometimes may need a bit of support finding the courage or resources to make it happen.
    Ask if you can arrange an appointment with a support service, or go along with them. If it’s related to work, suggest a team member or manager who can provide support for the issue. If you are the person’s manager, find out what about their role or work is causing them stress and work with the person to make changes where appropriate. If you need help doing this, seek advice from HR or your manager on how to support them with this.
  4. Help the person identify ways to manage stress. It can be difficult to provide advice if we aren’t trained in doing so, but anyone can help someone to identify what they think would be helpful for them.
    Ask questions like “what usually makes you feel relaxed?”, “when was the last time you felt calm – and what were you doing then that you aren’t doing now?” and “what actions could you take to change how things are for you?”
  5. Don’t get too involved. It’s important to remember that the wellbeing of support-people is important too. If we get too involved with helping someone, it can come at a cost to our wellbeing or may actually be unhelpful for the person experiencing stress. Provide support where and when appropriate, help them get the help they need, and seek advice from a trained professional or manager if you need to.