How to Talk to your Employee About Mental Health

How do you talk to your employees if you are concerned about their mental health?

Recently one of our readers mentioned they were concerned one of their employees was burning out. Key symptoms were present - excessive sick leave and trouble sleeping. However, as part of our tips to avoid burnout, they didn’t know how to start the conversation and was avoiding the situation.

Ignoring the problem and waiting until it gets worse increases the risk that the employee will have work performance issues or worse, leave the workforce altogether – through a stress claim or resignation.

According to the fantastic website Heads Up, ‘Supporting someone with a mental health condition to stay at or return to work has a number of benefits, for both the employee and the business. Work can play a key role in the person's recovery and positives for the business include retaining valuable skills and experience, and avoiding the cost of hiring and training new employees’

Heads Up recommends some of the following steps to initiate a conversation with your employee:

Planning the conversation

When you’re preparing to approach someone, it can be helpful to:

  • Identify the existing support services available within your workplace. Do you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and can you explain to the employee how to use this?
  • Consider who should be having the conversation. Are you the best person or would another workmate or someone from HR be more suitable?
  • Think about the most appropriate time and place. Find somewhere private where the person will feel comfortable.

What to say

It’s okay if you don’t quite know what to say! You can help make a difference by just being supportive and listening. Whether you’re a manager concerned about someone in your team or speaking to another colleague, the following tips will help you have the conversation:

1. How to start

  1. There's no one right way of expressing things – the main thing is to be thoughtful and genuine. Say what feels comfortable for you.
  2. You don’t need to have all the answers – it’s about having the conversation and the support you offer by talking.
  3. If what you say doesn’t sound quite right, stop and try again. It doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation.

2. Listen carefully

  • Remember that this is their story, so don’t try to guess how it plays out. Instead, listen and ask questions.
  • Be aware of your body language. To show you’re listening, try to maintain eye contact and sit in a relaxed position.
  • Repeat back your understanding of what they've said and make sure it's accurate.

3. Respond

Think about the best way to respond. Although you can’t fix things for them, you can help them along the way. You might:

  • Talk about it again another time and keep checking in with them.
  • Reassure them that you'll respect their privacy.
  • Think about what they need now and ask what you can do to help.

What to do Next

  • Discuss options for further support.
  • Develop a plan with them, incorporating any adjustments and strategies that will support them to remain at work.
  • Appreciate that they opened up and shared their story with you and make a note to check in with them again in a few days.
  • If you work in a larger organisation, engage your HR team or an occupational rehabilitation provider for additional support. Ensure clear channels of communication between all parties.

If your employee or colleague isn’t ready or willing to have the conversation yet, you’ve taken the first step to show that when they are ready, you, or another suitable support person are there to assist. Respect their choice, but leave the door open for another conversation at another time.

Keen to kick start your organisation’s path towards a mentally healthy workplace? Review our strategies for building a resilient workforce and implementing mindfulness into your workplace.

If you would like to have a discussion with GB about what action plans and resources are available to improve the mental health and wellbeing of your workplace, contact us today.

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