How often are you discussing your mental health at work? Most likely, the answer ranges from rarely to absolutely never. Well, you’re not alone – over 40% of British workers don’t feel comfortable discussing poor mental health with their manager or employer.

Creating an open and supportive culture in the workplace, especially regarding mental health, has last benefits for employees, managers, and other stakeholders. In 2022, Deloitte UK Mental Health Report found that every £1 invested in mental health interventions saw a return of £5.30 through decreased absence, presenteeism, and turnover.

Why Do We Avoid Discussing Mental Health?

One of the most significant reasons is relatively simple – it makes people uncomfortable, and we may not feel safe disclosing what is going on.

Employees fear disclosing their mental health will harm their careers, while managers fear crossing a line with their employees. Most of us have just determined that mental health is too sensitive to discuss – especially at work.

Despite the discomfort, having more conversations regarding mental health has many benefits, and the most challenging step is simply starting the conversation. With some guidance, these conversations can be much easier to start and maintain while focusing on an effective outcome.

1.Know When To Have The Conversation

Managers and leaders need to realize that their employees usually do not initiate the conversation for many reasons. They may feel they are not welcome to discuss their mental at work or that doing so would create undesirable repercussions. These fears mean that managers must be observant and perceptive.

2.Know When To Start The Conversation

This is where your observation and perception skills are put to the test. As a manager or a leader, it’s common to follow your associates’ professional performance. However, when it comes to noticing an employee’s mental health, you must pay closer attention to their behaviour – when it applies to work and other ways.

A few apparent signs that may demonstrate a decline in someone’s mental health include:

  • More absences
  • Increased lateness
  • Less engagement
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Decreased speed or quality of work

Of course, random occurrences of the signs above don’t necessarily allude to a mental health issue. However, when these behaviours are sustained, there is usually something happening below the surface that needs to be addressed.

3.Get Started On The Right Foot

Like most things, simply starting is one of the most challenging parts of having a conversation. The most crucial thing to remember is that there is no perfect way to begin any mental health conversation. It is going to feel at least a bit uncomfortable in the beginning.

Managers need to create the right environment and conditions when approaching these conversations. As a leader, you must create a safe and balanced place. This approach means you must check your emotions at the door and focus on allowing employees to share their experiences without judgment.

In a 2022 study conducted by CIPD, researchers found that only 39% of HR respondents think managers are capable of having sensitive conversations regarding mental health with their employees.

Here are a few ways to help start the conversation.

Check your biass

Check your bias and approach the conversation with empathy and respect. We all view situations through our lenses. When handling difficult conversations, assume positive intent and seek to understand the other person’s perspective.

Prepare Yourself
Take a few deep breaths, listen to some calming music, and find ways to remind yourself of your role in the conversation. While you prepare for this conversation, it helps to have a place. Consider creating a more open environment by taking the conversation away from work – go on a walk, grab a coffee, etc.

Timing Is Important
Try to set aside a time for the conversation that doesn’t interrupt someone’s work while ensuring the conversation won’t be disturbed. You can accomplish this by setting up a private meeting or talking during lunch or a break.

Demonstrate Active Listening
If you’re in the office, sit near them or next to them to show that you’re committed to listening and trying to understand. Be sure to encourage the person to share their experience by periodically giving affirmative physical or verbal nods.

Make An Authentic Connection
Creating a real, human connection relies significantly on how you use language. It is also crucial not to bring your assumptions to the conversation. The most effective approach is creating an open and safe space to listen.

Opening the conversation and getting started on the right foot can feel challenging. Here are a few phrases you can use to ensure you have an effective and safe conversation:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately. How are you feeling?
  • Do you have a support system and other ways to manage your feelings?
  • Know that I am here for you to listen and provide support.
  • When can we check in again?

Focus on asking open questions that focus on the present to ensure the conversation is as productive as possible.

4. Keep The Conversation Going

Unfortunately, there is typically no magical quick fix for mental health issues. Therefore, it is essential to consistently check in with those who are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.

Here is how you can ensure you keep the door open for the conversation while helping employees improve their wellbeing at work and elsewhere.

Agree To A Follow-Up
Before ending the initial conversation, schedule a follow-up. This step allows managers and employees to digest the first touchpoint while ensuring the issue doesn’t go unresolved. It also shows employees that their managers are invested in them beyond their professional performance and productivity.

Accept That Each Situation Is Different
No two employees are the same. Therefore, it’s essential to acknowledge that you’ll be facing unique circumstances, relationships, expectations, needs, and much more. By leading with vulnerability and authenticity, you can address all of these distinctive needs much more effectively.

There is never an easy way to get someone to open up, especially at work and when it applies to something as personal as mental health. That is why sometimes having a company specialised in mental health help can be the right approach for effective results both in and outside the office.