We routinely speak about physical health in the workplace. Encouraging open dialogue with employees about their emotions and mental health is equally as important, but sometimes not as well managed or implemented.
Mental health is our ‘state of wellbeing’ and dictates whether we can contribute to day-to-day activities both personally and at work. Mental health can range from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia and can affect one in four people at some point during their lives, which can have a significant impact on employee wellbeing and even lead to long term absence.
Actively speaking about mental health with colleagues can lead to increased productivity, boost staff morale, reduced sickness and enhance staff retention.
Strong performers may be silently managing poor mental health, or you may have noticed that an employees’ work performance has recently dipped, or they have been late on occasion. Talking about mental health ensures that everyone is given the opportunity to share and access support if they need it.
This is where your regular one to ones can be so important. Colleagues suffering with mental health may be unlikely to actively seek out support and a simple ‘are you ok?’ in a confidential and supportive environment can create a natural opportunity for employees to engage with you and open up about how they are feeling.
Two-way wellbeing conversations can also be powerful and provide reassurance to colleagues who may be reluctant to open up.
Useful questions to start the conversation are:
- How are you doing at the moment?
- I have noticed that you seem a bit down lately. Is everything ok?
- You have been late a couple of times recently. Are you ok?
- You needed more help than usual with this month’s report. Is there anything you would like to talk about?
- Are there any work-related factors contributing to how you are feeling?
If an employee opens up to you, you should seek to understand their needs by focusing on the person and not the problem. Respect their feelings, be empathetic to what they have to say and avoid being judgemental.
Listen to the employee describe how they are feeling and how it affects them at work. Identify their early warning signs and triggers of poor mental health and agree practical steps that both you and the employee will take in the event of poor mental health. Employees will be affected differently, so support should be provided on an individual basis. Work adjustments may be necessary on a short- or long-term basis. The changes needed are often inexpensive and uncomplicated.
Encouraging the employee to see their GP is often a useful first step and share the telephone line for MIND – a registered mental health charity with them. The number is 0300 123 3393. If you have an Employee Assistance Programme, you will be able to access support such as counselling for them through that. Follow up what is agreed in writing and keep the conversation going by building in regular welfare check ins and reviews.
If you think an employee may need help but they are not ready to share, continue to offer safe environments for them to talk and signpost support options with them. Raising the profile of mental health in the workplace and responding to individual needs appropriately will require good people management skills and empathy.
If you would like some help starting the conversation with your employees or are unsure how to help a particular employee, please do contact us here. We can share conversation checklists and a template individual wellness plan to assist you.