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Stress Mapping

This is a great visual technique to look at causes of stress.

When we consider, on a scale of 0-10, how much stress different factors cause us, we are able to break an overwhelming feeling down into individual points to focus on. That gives us insight to plan a way forward to reduce stressors.

As soon as we acknowledge that we are all susceptible to stress, and that the combination of pressures and demands over a sustained period can feel too much, we can begin to actively take control.


Creating a Stress Map
  1. To develop a stress map, put your team at the centre. Around that, add all the different components for the team, with lines representing the relationships between each component.
  2. Add a number between 0 and 10 to each line to quantify the level of stress caused by each component.
  3. Next, add numbers between -10 and 0 to represent components that are positive, and that help reduce stress.
  4. Connecting lines without numbers show where the factors impact each other, for example in the case study below, Manager A adds to the workload. Both the manager and the workload creates stress for the HR team, separately.
  5. Then identify where you might be able to make some changes, whether they are practical changes to reduce stressors, or about altering your response. For strategies to change your cognitive responses, check out this blog.


A Case Study

The HR employees identified the stressful experience within their team situation as largely influenced by budget restrictions, a manager, two directors and some individual needs.

The manager was proving incompetent and as such, his team was experiencing issues with sickness absence, conflict and people leaving. His reputation was influencing the recruitment of people into that team. This was adding significantly to the workload for HR.

The workload was described as a problem factor, particularly since the pandemic. The changes in legislation and the way people want to work was creating numerous issues. The budget restrictions limited resources to be used to solve some of the problems that HR were identifying, particularly recruitment, retention and the need for training and development.

Of the directors, most were trusting of HR, giving the team autonomy to operate in the way that the HR professionals felt best. However, there were a couple of directors who wanted to micro-manage the HR team and this caused stress.

Some individuals within the company were creating conflict and disharmony in their teams, and between teams. And some employees were struggling to focus on their work due to other issues they were experiencing. These were adding to the HR workload and felt beyond the scope of support that the HR professionals felt confident to deal with.



Moving forward…

The scores provide an idea of priority. The workload and Manager A is causing most stress. Of the workload, and concerning the budget issues, recruitment is the highest score. The individuals are also contributing to that workload and although the HR team are not directly responsible for these employees, the consequences of the problems are landing on their desk. This information is helpful to create a plan to move forward to reduce stress.


  • It was agreed that as the directors connected with Manager A, HR would ask one of them to talk to the manager to share the concerns, ask what support he needed, and identify a plan to move forward.
  • It was also agreed that HR would ask one of the trusting directors to explore the director roles with her colleagues at a leadership meeting, to align roles with their strengths and best interests of the business. The aim of that was to move the ‘Old School’ directors away from people responsibility.
  • Some of these felt beyond the capability or capacity of the current HR team. They agreed a plan to maximise expertise via outsourced support. They approached Harwood HR to gain help with recruitment (for example, ‘refer a friend’ and the development of an internal career path to develop existing employees) and an overhaul in changing the model of working at the company (including hybrid and flexible working).
  • They also approached It’s Time for Change to create a development plan that was about covering less, but covering it well. For example, providing bespoke support to Manager A, and looking at how best to embed the training that had already happened, so that it made a real difference to the whole company, including the culture to make it more appealing for potential recruits.  Previously, a scatter-gun approach to fixing problems had occurred but the current HR team acknowledged that the plan going forward had to be more strategic. It’s Time for Change, alongside other internal and external people, were able to help with this.
  • The specific factors contributing to workload led to workshops about positive conflict and managing ‘difficult’ employees. Also, a contact service (nick-named HR SOS) was set up for HR to access a 30 minute advice call with It’s Time for Change when every they or their managers were feeling stuck and wanted help about how they could best support in-house.
  • It was agreed to talk with the HR directors about decision-making process that involve more of the stake-holders so that all are clear about the values, purpose and priorities, and that plans (including the budget) are made in line with these.


Differences of Opinion

It is likely there will be differences of opinion between team members about how much stress or help any given component will contribute. This provides the insight for powerful conversation within the team to explore different experiences and responses, to increase connection, empathy and trust.

The conversation also enables individuals to learn from each other and to problem solve collectively, so that issues become a shared responsibility and accountability is increased. This takes pressure off the manager to feel the need to resolve challenges alone. It is helpful to acknowledge that we are all part of the system, and if we tweak one part, it is likely to create a ripple effect; it is in everyone’s interest to get involved.

An activity such as stress mapping will only be effective in teams that experience psychological safety, where they are able to speak freely, without judgement, and it is safe to contribute thoughts and challenge practice. If you’re feeling stuck with creating the right team dynamic, let me know  – I can help.


A Tool for Individuals

Stress Mapping is also a great tool to use with individuals who have agreed to explore their stress using this method, to provide an opportunity to identify support to plan a way forward.

The conversation must happen between two people with whom there is trust and respect. A line manager may not be the right person but that is ok. The quality of the conversation, along with learning about what the individual employee can do differently, is important. Gaining practical support from the line manager to implement practical actions, is of course, helpful. But our responses to stressful situations plays a big part too.


Would you like some help facilitating a Stress Mapping workshop? Drop me a line.


Thank you to Zoe Lidster of Harwood HR for your help with this case study.



Palmer, S.  (1990).  Stress Mapping: A Visual Technique to Aid Counselling or Training.  Employee Counselling Today, 2 (2), pp. 9-12.