Requesting a Stress Leave at Work: The Step-by-Step Process for a True, Effective Break

Stress leave is a crucial recovery period that an employee takes off work to deal with or recover from stress-related illnesses or injuries.

Stress is inevitable, no matter how much you balance work and your personal life. Studies show that work can cause the highest amounts of stress in a person’s life. This stress can stem from an upcoming major deadline, disagreement with a co-worker, and horrible bosses. Sometimes, the workplace itself can also pose a serious threat.

If you want to take a break from work to avoid getting burn out, then this article is perfect for you. Here, we will highlight every step you need to take in order to get that much-needed breath of fresh air and how HR management software can make the stress leave application process a hassle-free experience.

What is stress leave at work?

Stress leave is an extended period of time that an employee takes off work to deal with or recover from stress-related illnesses, injuries, and other predicaments. Laws regarding stress leave vary from country to country so, it’s best to contact your country or state’s department of labour to see what the requirements are.  Take note that the term “stress leave” doesn’t exist, legally. Instead, it is often referred to as “sick leave”.

Stress leave is required when the situation is so serious it can’t be fixed by a few days’ breaks. It can be for a few months at a time. And in rare cases, stretch to beyond a year! Some of the signs that may require stress leave include:

  • Inability to perform your duties
  • Stress levels affecting your ability to work effectively
  • Work-related stress affecting your personal life or home
  • Symptoms of depression or anxiety, as confirmed by your doctor

Why employees apply for stress leave at work?

There are many reasons why employees apply for stress leave. And some are more common than others:

#1. Too much workload

It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed out when you have too many things to do. The pressure of maintaining good performance at work and not saying no to a colleague or boss that you are trying to impress is oftentimes a trigger for stress.

#2. Work-life balance

Emails, phone calls, and texts are disrupting the work-life balance. Checking emails from work first thing in the morning and before you sleep at night isn’t unusual.

#3. Issues with other people

Office politics, gossiping, bullying, and harassment are just some of the many conflicts that exist in the workplace. Most of the time, our happiness at work depends on the people we are dealing with. If you constantly deal with toxic individuals, then chances are, you get stressed out too often.

Steps on how to get a stress leave at work

Stress leave is a significant period of recovery and must be used carefully. Below are the steps you need to take in order to successfully file for a stress leave at work:

Step 1. Consult your doctor

Many employees procrastinate on seeing their doctor. Don’t be one of them. Waiting until your stress escalates could affect your ability to recover. So, if you think you are experiencing symptoms that may require a stress leave, then go and book an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can.

During the consultation, be 100% honest about what you are feeling. This will help the doctor make the right diagnosis and recommendations for your recovery.

Step 2. Get your doctor’s note for stress leave

Many feel uneasy about asking their doctor for time off from work. Don’t be. Remember that your doctor is here to help you. They have the experience and training to deal with situations like this. Below are some key points to remember when talking to your doctor about stress leave:

  • Be open about your symptoms
  • Be upfront about your feelings. Don’t leave out any details.
  • Listen to your doctor’s advice
  • If needed, book follow-up appointments
  • Explain your situation clearly and what you feel triggers your predicament

Step 3. Tell your employer

By this time, you should have a note from your doctor stating that you qualify for a stress leave at work. How will you tell your employer?

Many employees don’t feel comfortable explaining to their employers why they need some time off work. Remember that stress leave is a very common situation in the workplace. And chances are, it’s not your employer’s first time dealing with such situations. So, go ahead and speak directly with your HR team or manager and explain:

  • Your stress levels are preventing you to work effectively.
  • A doctor gives his recommendation for sick leave.
  • Key details about your condition (you don’t have to explain everything).
  • Open up. Don’t be afraid of explaining your personal side.

Many employees find it easier to speak with a close friend or family member first before speaking to their manager. We actually recommend this as this will help you verbalize what you are feeling.

Don’t feel intimidated when talking to your manager face to face. Remember that your wellbeing is much more important than work. After explaining your situation, discuss with your employer the amount of time you need for time off and the sick leave note from your doctor.

A lot of employees worry about the impact of stress leave on their job. Don’t be. Remember that legally, employers are obliged to care for your wellbeing in the workplace. Laws about stress leave vary from country to country. To minimize the impact of sick leave on your job security, consider these:

  • Communication with your employer to help manage their expectations.
  • Always be clear and upfront in your communications

Step 4. Focus on your recovery

Now that your stress leave is approved, it’s time to talk about recovery so you can get back to work healthy in no time. Below are some of our tips:

  • Switch off from work – answering work emails and phone call whilst on sick leave is not advised. Remember that this is a period of recovery so, keep your work-related communications to a minimum (preferably to occasional updates about your condition to your boss).
  • Address the root cause of your burnout – is it the lack of sleep? The absence of entertainment? Whatever your problem is, it is best to identify the root cause of your burnout and then resolving them. Remember, burnout doesn’t get better on its own.
  • Take care of your body – stress can affect you physically. While you are on stress leave, take good care of your body. Exercise lightly, eat a balanced meal, take lots of fluid, eat foods that rich in endorphins (happy hormones), etc.
  • Be patient – if recovering from severe stress, you might feel that you’re not going to live a normal life again. Don’t be. Just be patient. You will eventually recover but there is no guarantee as to when. Keep in touch with your doctor and keep an open line of communication with your close family and friends.

Step 5. Returning to work

Returning to work after a stress leave can be an overwhelming experience. When returning to work, do what we call a “phased return.” Start with a few hours a week, then do a few half days. Monitor what you are feeling and make adjustments as necessary. Work closely with your doctor and employer during this period of transition.

How about dealing with your colleagues? Getting questions about why you took stress leave from your co-workers is inevitable. You are not obliged to explain everything in detail to them. You know who you work with, so we’ll leave your response up to you.

Step 6. Managing stress at work

Again, stress at work is inevitable. Because prevention is better than cure, we’ll talk about how you can minimize the amount of stress you feel at work:

  • Discuss with your manager ideas on how to improve your work situation.
  • Ask your employer to reduce your current workload by temporarily reallocating tasks you find stressful, switching to a less demanding position, or reducing your work hours.
  • Changing your lifestyle — exercising, meditating, improving your diet, reducing the time you spend with electronic devices, avoiding toxic relationships, etc.
  • Acknowledge that you will have rough days. Not everything will go according to plan. Just take a step back, relax, and accept things as they are.

If your condition doesn’t seem to improve, it’s probably high time to look for a new employer.

The Role of HR Software in Requesting Stress Leave at Work

HR Software, like CakeHR, is designed to make time-off requests easier for you. Without the hassle or spreadsheets and paper forms, you can apply for a leave on the web, CakeHR’s mobile app, and even from Slack! This self-service feature also enables your HR team or manager to approve your request in real-time without dealing with piles of paperwork.


Love yourself first. Remember that at the end of the day, it’s your wellbeing that matters — not your work. Stress leave is crucial recovery period designed to help you maintain your health. If you feel you a need for a stress leave, don’t forget these steps:

  • Consult your doctor
  • Get your doctor’s note for stress leave
  • Tell your employer
  • Focus on your recovery
  • Return to work gradually
  • Manage stress at work more effectively
  • Use an HR Software to ease out your leave stress application process


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HR management software app system CakeHR human resources
HR management software app system CakeHR human resources

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Written By

Lenmark Anthony Baltazar

I have been living a life of HR for as long as I can remember. My experiences helped me realize that true happiness comes from being a blessing to the lives of others. I hope my skills and talents will be a blessing to you as well.