At our recent employer Roadshows held up and down the country, mental health was a topic often discussed by those in attendance. One recurring question from employers was simply ‘how do I talk to my employees about mental health?’ There is lots of guidance which suggests that fostering an open dialogue about mental health will make for a happier, more motivated workforce – but employers often want to know how to bring up this sensitive subject in the first place, without upsetting any staff members.
A recent survey from Canada Life Group of 1,000 employees found that a third of respondents believed that their employer has a negative approach to mental health issues. Only 5% of respondents said their employer is helpful when dealing with mental health issues, and 13% of respondents believe their employer is dismissive and does not take mental health problems seriously.
For someone not trained to spot mental health issues, it can be hard to identify when a team member may be struggling. Although you shouldn’t make assumptions about someone’s mental health, the mental health charity MIND have a helpful guide for how to spot the signs. These include changes in a staff member’s behaviour, mood, or in their work output, appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn, or struggling to make decisions and focus.
If you think an employee may be struggling with a mental health issue, talking to them about it is important – but it can often be hard to think about how to do this in a sensitive way. The key way to begin these conversations is to ensure the staff member in question feels supported and reassured. Take them to a quiet, neutral location – perhaps outside of the workplace – and simply ask them how they are feeling, as you would for a physical health issue. Ensure that they know the conversation is entirely confidential, and you won’t be sharing any information with other staff members unless they want you to.
People can often find it difficult to talk about mental health, especially at work, so don’t push for an answer straight away. Be honest and clear with the employee, and let them know what support is available for them. In time, your employee will hopefully feel comfortable enough to develop an action plan with you for managing their condition, which may include things like flexible working, reallocation of tasks and weekly catch ups.
Visit the MIND guide for supporting employees experiencing a mental health problem here. Employers can also call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 to talk to a trained advisor, and can refer staff members off work for four weeks or more to Fit for Work here.