Starting better mental health conversations with your employees

Mental health has come a long way over the past decade, but it’s still got a long way to go. When it comes to mental health at work, lots of people still feel like they’re not getting the support they really need – and that honest conversations about their mental health still come with labels they’d rather not have.

In fact, a staggering half of UK adults would lie to their employer if they needed to take a sick day due to mental health reasons, instead saying they have a physical illness or taking annual leave to avoid the conversation altogether.

So, how can you help your teams feel comfortable talking about mental health? And make sure they get what they need from the conversation?

Read on to find out what you can do to get an impactful mental health conversation started in your workplace.

Get the mental health conversation started

How you choose to get going is really up to you, and your company culture. 

You might want to launch a big internal campaign to start making employees aware that you’re putting the spotlight on mental health, so they’ll have the opportunity to get involved in a way that works for them. 

If that doesn’t feel like your business, you might simply make some small changes that set your teams off on the right path, like including an emotional check-in as part of your employees’ regular review process or development meeting going forward

Understand your mental health and wellbeing policy

Regularly reviewing your mental health policy will help to make sure it stays relevant to your vision of mental health in your organisation, and continues to offer the right support as your business changes.

You’ll need the support and buy-in of your leadership team, too – so encourage them to review the policy and have their own input. If there’s a policy that they believe in and understand, they’ll play a key part in taking positive action in the future that will influence other employees around them.
If you don’t have a mental health policy in place yet, speak to your HR team and get the ball rolling. You can take a look at Co-op’s mental health policy here to see how they’ve laid out their commitment to supporting colleagues struggling with mental health, and included useful resources and toolkits, too.

Let people know who to talk to

A barrier to getting the conversation started might simply be that people aren’t sure who to approach, and when. You can outline this in your mental health policy.

You might also set up specific mental health sessions that run on a regular basis. They’ll help your employees feel they’re having a mental health conversation with the right people who already have time set aside to listen, or are sharing the same experience. These could be informational sessions, support groups or buddy/mentor systems.

Managing mental health for remote workers

If your workplace has adopted remote or hybrid working, you might feel that supporting well-being and being aware of signs that colleagues are struggling has become more of a challenge.

Some people can find remote working quite isolating, or may be struggling to switch off as the lines of working and home life become blurred. Check in with remote and hybrid colleagues regularly, remind them where to access resources for their mental health and well-being online, and run your mental health sessions online as well as in person so they have access to the same support as your office-based team.

Make sure your mental health policy reflects the way your business currently operates and considers your remote and hybrid workers, too.

Give your leaders and line managers the right tools and training

Leaders and managers might be feeling uncomfortable and unqualified to talk about mental health with their colleagues, and worry they won’t know what to do if someone approaches them with mental health concerns.

You can support your leadership and management teams to open up the conversation about mental health by giving them training and resources to boost their confidence. 

Tools like Wellness Plans can give colleagues a platform to think about their mental health and wellbeing at work, and give them a structured way to articulate what they may currently be experiencing. It’s also a great way to open a dialogue with their manager, and give their manager a good insight before starting a conversation.  Take a look at these free Wellness Action Plan templates from Mind to get you started.

Understanding mental health conditions

Just like physical health, there are many mental health conditions. Some have similar symptoms while others are very different, and they can vary in severity.

When people are experiencing mental health difficulties, they may behave differently to how you and their colleagues are used to, such as:

  • Changes to their performance, output and focus
  • Interacting differently with colleagues
  • Withdrawing from meetings, activities and work socials that they would previously have seemed comfortable in
  • An increase in absence from work
  • An increase in smoking or drinking, or changes to their eating habits
  • Appearing overwhelmed and struggling to make decisions or take actions

But, just like no one would expect you or your leadership and management team to fix a broken leg in the office, you’re not expected to be the experts when it comes to mental health, either. Let your managers know that it’s great if they want to do some research on specific conditions to find out how best to support a colleague, but there’s no pressure on them to know everything when it comes to mental health.

Don’t make assumptions

The key when it comes to supporting people with mental health conditions is not to make assumptions. A colleague’s mental health condition may have little to no impact on their daily ability to get their job done well, as they may have already taken steps to manage it.

It’s good to ask questions, and find out what support they might need now if they’re struggling with their mental health, or what changes you can make that might support them with the ongoing management of their symptoms.

Confidential conversations

It’s not uncommon for employees to worry that any conversations they have around mental health are shared with senior leadership and might impact their future career.

Not everything has to be – or should be – shared, so let your employees know that. It may give them the reassurance they need to open up to business leaders or other colleagues if they know their conversation will stay between them.

Check that line managers, leaders and anyone likely to have conversations about mental health with colleagues are aware of what needs to be disclosed, and to whom. Sometimes, they might need to share some information to make changes happen to support the employee – and they should ask for the employee’s permission before they do so. If there’s any concern that your employee is in crisis or at serious risk of harm, take a look at the guidance from Mind here.

Offering mental health support that’s easy to access

Sometimes, people struggling with their mental health might simply not be ready to talk. That’s OK. Making sure you offer them a safe space to do so will help them understand that when they’re ready to talk, their colleagues are ready to listen and help.

Giving everyone access to tools and resources they can use without having to open up to colleagues straight away can help them feel like they can take control of their own mental health and wellbeing privately when they need it. And since mental health isn’t confined to working hours, the support you offer your employees shouldn’t be either.

Tools to use in and out of work

Employee Assistance Programmes

Employee Assistance Programmes (known also as EAPs) can be offered to employees to support them with personal problems, and typically they’ll provide assessments, short term counselling and referrals. There are lots of different EAP providers, and you can find out more information here.

Mental health and wellbeing app subscriptions

Offering your employees mental health and wellbeing app subscriptions can be a way to provide support that you can scale easily. But remember to choose the apps you partner with in your workplace carefully; while some will support general wellbeing and mild mental health concerns, most won’t be suitable to help people suffering from moderate to serious mental health conditions. An app like Ed can Help provides sound therapy that noticeably improves conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress, as well as general wellbeing and performance.

One in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health condition at some point in their lives. That’s why it’s more important than ever to get the mental health conversation started in your workplace, provide people with the right support, and keep reviewing it to make sure it stays relevant.

To find out more about how Ed can Help can improve mental health and performance in your organisation, you can contact us here.