Managing mental health in the workplace

Managing mental health in the workplace

One of the many issues raised in last week’s Mental Health Awareness Week organised by by the Mental health Foundation was a report and research from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) suggesting that most workers would not feel comfortable discussing mental health with their manager. Meanwhile line managers are reluctant to bring up the subject with their staff because they are concerned they will say or do the wrong thing.

The findings of the report clearly demonstrate that mental health is still a taboo in many British workplaces and businesses need to develop “prevention-first” approaches to dealing with it.

The survey,  asked 400 employees from a variety of businesses across Britain to get a clearer picture of what is being done to support workers with mental health problems.

Key findings include: 80% won’t discuss mental health with their line manager; 25% of employees would be more comfortable discussing mental health with a colleague; and 22% of line managers rarely discuss mental health with their direct reports, with a further 11% never doing so.

One employee said: “I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression but never admitted to it at work for fear of being stigmatised.”

The results also reveal that 62% of line managers don’t get enough help from their organisation to support the mental wellbeing of their staff, with only 31% of respondents saying they have been sufficiently trained to recognise the signs of poor mental health.

Identifying potential mental health issues in the workplace

Good mental health should be a priority for any business, and implementing it needs to involve more than just the HR department. It’s vital to get buy-in from senior managers and make sure conversations about mental health and wellbeing happen at board level.

Changes in behaviour may signal something is wrong with your employees and the earlier you identify this the better for all parties.

Typical changes in behaviour could include:

  • Mood swings, uncharacteristic and erratic behaviour
  • Increased absence
  • Physical symptoms such as regular colds, rapid weight loss or gain
  • High staff turnover
  • Anger or aggression
  • Low employee engagement
  • Poor motivation
  • Poor productivity
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn
  • Struggling to make decisions
  • Changes to eating, drinking and smoking habits
  • Risk taking

Spotting one or two of these symptoms does not always mean there is an underlying mental health issue, but you should consider checking on your employee’s wellbeing or picking up with their manager – especially if you know they may be going through a difficult time inside or outside work.

Supporting employees

As an employer there are a number of ways you can support your employees who may be suffering from mental health issues, as well as your line managers who are usually the ones responsible for dealing with mental health in the workforce on a day to day basis, but can lack the confidence or experience to manage this alone. Support programs can include:

Training for managers

Organise training sessions for your management team including line managers/supervisors to know how to recognise staff with potential mental health issues, support them and manage them accordingly.


Regular catch up meetings provide staff with a chance to talk to their managers about any concerns they have about their workload, workplace and conditions. It also provides managers with the opportunity to spot early warning signs of employees struggling to cope and experiencing anxiety issues.

Encourage employees to talk

Encourage your staff to discuss their worries/concerns with management. You could host well-being events, provide free counseling and allocate some space for quiet zones where staff can relax and talk to managers or other employees about their issues.

Changes to how employees perform their role

Look at offering employees flexible working conditions/hours, breaks, working from home. Agreement to give an employee leave at short notice and time off for appointments related to their mental health, such as therapy and counselling. Provision of quiet rooms to relax in break times.

Changes to the role itself 

Reallocation of some tasks or changes to people’s job description and duties, a redeployment to a more suitable role, training and support to apply for vacancies and secondments in other departments.

Extra support

Increased supervision or support from manager. For example, some people can take on too much so may need their manager to monitor their workload to prevent this and ensure they’re working sensible hours. Extra training, coaching or mentoring and additional help with managing and negotiating workload. More positive and constructive feedback, debriefing sessions on tasks.


For more information you may find this ebook interesting Managing Mental Health in the Workplace, published by UNUM and the Mental Health Foundation.

If you need assistance in dealing with mental health issues in the workplace, please contact us here, as we can help you by providing consultation, strategy and training. 

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Picture of Sandra Berns

Sandra Berns

Centric HR was founded by Sandra Berns, a confident and versatile Human Resources and Organisational Development Practitioner with 25 years demonstrable experience and a Fellow of the CIPD. Sandra has both Operational and Strategic HR expertise across Public and Private sectors and has assisted senior teams in meeting challenging workforce objectives in many corporate environments.