The average level of personal debt for UK adults is now around £30,000 and many people are struggling to keep up with the repayments, especially as wage rises have fallen below inflation.

Even workers are finding this level of personal debt tough and when an unexpected expense like a blown head gasket or a broken dental crown comes along, it can tip the balance from just-about-managing to in money problems. If you’re an employer, you have a duty of care to monitor your staff for signs of financial distress and to offer help.

Here’s what you need to look out for.

A refusal to face the problem

This might seem a bit paradoxical; how can you tell when someone’s refusing to face up to a problem that you know nothing about? However, by burying their head in the sand where debt is concerned, something will happen sooner or later that exposes the situation. The employee may get a call from a creditor at their desk or finally break down and tell a colleague about a County Court Judgement against them. You can find CCJs explained here if you need to know more about them.

Excessive tiredness at work

Serious debt is the enemy of restful sleep because people can be in a state of constant worry and stress. This lack of sleep can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, irritability and poor performance at work. This is not only deeply unpleasant for the individual, it also has knock-on effects upon colleagues and, ultimately, your business.

Patchy eating habits

Stress affects the appetite and digestion. People may binge on unhealthy foods or might not eat much at all. This leads to health problems and lost work-days. If your employee suddenly stops going to lunch and isn’t on a diet, there may be another reason for their asceticism.

Unusual anxiety

If someone is being “chased” by creditors and debt collectors, then they are constantly on alert. They’ll jump when their mobile rings, maybe even when their desk phone rings. They can develop a certain level of paranoia which can come across at work, too; they may wonder who the person waiting in a parked car near the office is, or nervously eye up their in-office mail.

Unusual anger

Debt can make people feel trapped and hopeless and these feelings can easily turn to anger. The anger can be directed at themselves, at higher-paid colleagues, at the government, the economy, you (for not “paying them enough”) and even their dependents for, well, being dependent. Out-of-character temper outbursts and moodiness are a classic sign of stress and if the source of the stress isn’t immediately obvious, debt may be the culprit.

Sudden depression

Unresolved or problematic debt can lead to mental health issues, chiefly depression. Chances are that the low moods will dissipate when the debt is resolved or at least on the way to resolution, but sometimes it can stay around or even worsen. If the debts aren’t being dealt with or are too overwhelming, then the depression is likely to linger. Depression and anxiety cause almost 12 million lost work-days each year, so it behoves employees to look after their people.