Talking to Employees about Mental Health and Starting Conversations

Talking to Employees about Mental Health and Starting Conversations

With around 15% of people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace and an estimated 13% of all sick days attributed to poor mental health (Mental Health Foundation UK), it’s never been more important to start having conversations about mental health. In this article, we’ll be going into more detail on how to broach the subject of mental health with employees.

How to encourage conversations about mental health

Some people find it difficult to talk about mental health issues and there are still attitudes out there, particularly with men, that people should just ‘suck it up’ and ‘deal with it’. So how do you create an environment which allows people to talk about this kind of thing?

Having an open and honest work culture is essential in getting people to disclose the things that cause them stress, which can lead to poor mental health. Understanding what motivates employees, and knowing how to get the best out of them, is an essential skill for any line manager. Managers who are unapproachable risk alienating their workforce, which can lead to a reduction in productivity and increased absenteeism. Managers should seek to have regular catch-ups with employees as they are vital for spotting the early signals of stress, which if gone unchecked, can lead to anxiety and depression.

Conversation starters around mental health

Although some staff members are happy to raise any concerns as and when they arise, managers need to take the first step for the sake of employees who choose to hide their feeling. Asking simple, open-ended questions like ‘how are you feeling at the moment’ gives a person plenty of time to open up. Other ways to broach the subject of mental health could be to ask:

  • I’ve noticed you haven’t been answering your emails as quickly as you usually do, is everything alright?
  • You’ve been coming in late more frequently, are you OK?
  • I can’t help noticing you seem under pressure at the moment, is everything OK?
  • Is there anything you are struggling with at the moment and is there any way I can help?

It’s important to avoid asking closed-questions and being judgmental when approaching employees. Avoid asking things like:

  • Everybody else is managing to do there work fine, what’s up with you?
  • Who do you expect is going to do all the extra work that you’re not managing to take care of?
  • I can tell you’re struggling with things, why aren’t you working as hard as the rest of the team?

When talking to employees about mental health, a common-sense approach is always the best way

How to talk to employees about mental health

When talking to employees, a common-sense approach is always the best way. Although it may not come naturally at first, managers with excellent people skills shouldn’t find it too tricky once the ball starts to roll. Due to the personal nature of the subject, people may find it hard to open up, so here is some advice on how to get people talking about mental health issues.

Create a confidential environment when approaching the subject. Avoid anything that can distract you or make your employees think they haven’t got your full attention, such as turning off mobile phones and making sure meeting room doors are closed. Encourage the employee to talk by speaking calmly and asking open questions. Expect some silences when talking, never make assumptions or interrupt and give employees the time to respond in full.

Mental health problems affect people in several different ways. What may seem like a mild inconvenience to one person can be more of an issue for others, so it’s crucial to react and respond in an unbiased way. Listen to your employees’ needs and try to manage as many of the problems as you can, instead of picking what you think are the most important ones. After the talk, ensure that everything is followed up in writing and decide on any agreed actions or support that may be required afterwards.

Lastly, seek advice if there is something you don’t feel comfortable with. There are many organisations out there who can help, such as the charity Mind and the CIPD who have a whole bank of mental health resources. Mental health can also be provided via workplace counselling or through an employee assistance program. To learn more about mental health in the workplace, read our blog on how to manage and support mental health at work.