Talking About Mental Health at Work – Guide for Employers

One of the very first places all organisations should start when it comes to improving employee wellbeing is by opening up about mental health in the workplace. However, starting conversations about health and wellbeing can feel difficult for many. Often, employees are afraid that talking about mental health at work will reflect badly on them. 

Encouraging an open and honest workplace culture can improve productivity, reduce absences, and promote better mental health overall. With stress levels rising for many across the world, it’s more important than ever that organisations create an environment where employees feel safe to talk.

In this guide, we’ll look at the different ways you can talk about mental health and wellbeing with your employees, and some further resources that may be helpful.

The Benefits of Talking About Mental Health at Work

Starting conversations about mental health in the workplace is vital to ensuring that employees feel listened to and that they’re able to come to you whenever there may be issues with their wellbeing. It also promotes an open and honest workplace which can make your team feel more valued and improve engagement.

Some studies show that addressing wellbeing at work can improve productivity by as much as 12%, but that’s not all. Over half (57%) of all working days lost to ill health are due to work-related stress, according to HSE. Talking about mental health at work can increase productivity, reduce working days lost and employee turnover, and improve your team’s overall wellbeing. It’s a win-win situation for everyone in the organisation.

7 Tips to Help You Talk About Mental Health and Wellbeing at Work

In a survey run by Mind, 30% of employees disagreed with the statement, “I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed.” It’s clear that we need to be proactive in addressing employee wellbeing, but where do we start?

We’ll go through some tips and tricks to help you talk about mental health with your employees, and include some conversation starters and other activities you may want to try.

1. The Right Environment

Whether you’re going to be holding one-to-ones, group sessions, virtual meetings or something else, what’s important is that you get the environment right. Wellbeing conversations should be held in a safe space where employees know that what they say is going to be treated as confidential.

An overly formal meeting can often feel daunting and make employees less likely to open up. Avoid sitting on either side of an imposing desk as this can often feel like an interview or as though they’re being reprimanded.

Consider how you can create a safe and relaxing environment; perhaps in a break out room, a quiet and private meeting room, or even going for a walk and talk!

2. The Right Time

Environment isn’t the only factor to consider when it comes to talking about mental health at work. Choosing the right time to talk is just as important! Employees shouldn’t have to reach breaking point before they feel they can reach out for help. Instead, workplace wellbeing conversations need to be an ongoing practice.

By starting the conversations even before there’s a problem, you will create a culture where employees know they can turn to you for support. These conversations need to be embedded into workplace culture and held regularly. 

You may want to have these conversations during normal one-to-ones, check-ins and reviews, in team meetings, or any other time you talk to employees. Starting meetings by asking how everyone is feeling (really feeling) will get the ball rolling and create a more open culture.

3. Practice Active Listening

Active listening is vital when it comes to talking about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. It assures your team that you’re really paying attention and can encourage more open and honest conversations. To practice active listening, ensure you:

  • Retain eye contact and open body language, as long as the person you’re talking to seems comfortable with that.
  • Acknowledge what’s been said and show that you’re listening with appropriate gestures and nods.
  • Don’t assume you know what the other person is going to say or that you have all of the answers – listen more than you speak.
  • Repeat back what has been said to check that you’ve understood.
  • Don’t interrupt or try to give advice whilst the person is mid-talking.
  • Ask open and direct questions when appropriate to do so.
  • Recap what has been discussed at the end of the conversation and share any advice or tools that may be helpful for the other person.

4. Create a Wellness Action Plan Together

It’s worth encouraging your employees to make their own Wellness Action Plans or even offering to work on them together if they need support. A Wellness Action Plan (WAP) can be used as a personal tool for the employee themselves to use, as a way of opening up conversations in the workplace, and sometimes even as a way to come up with new ideas as to how managers can support their teams’ mental health better. 

We have created a guide to creating a Wellness Action Plan which includes a template that you can print off and use with your team. 

5. Share Resources for Support 

It’s a good idea to prepare for these wellbeing conversations by gathering up the necessary strategies and resources your employees may find helpful. Some of the biggest concerns employees have, from our own experience, include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Low mood and depression
  • Financial wellbeing worries
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Isolation (especially if working from home)
  • Difficulty with work/life balance

Finding or creating resources that can help your employees in each of these different areas will ensure you can end discussions with practical tools for them to explore further.

Another idea is to create a workplace wellbeing hub on your Intranet or website, that employees can use when they’re looking for specific resources. We absolutely love what Keeping Well South East London have done for theirs. Whilst you may not have the sheer number of resources they can provide, it’s still a good idea to have an accessible space for employees to get support.

Finally, make sure you’re constantly communicating what resources are available for your team. Share them in one-to-ones, group discussions, and in workplace communications. Ask for what people would like to see and keep them regularly updated.

Two men talking about mental health at work

6. Conversation Starters

Want to know exactly how to get your wellbeing conversations started? Below are some examples that can be used to get people talking without fear of judgement. Some of these are better kept in one-to-ones, whereas others can be used in group discussions.

  • How are you doing at the moment?
  • I’ve noticed that you’ve [insert behaviour], How are you feeling at the moment? (Ensure this comes from a place of concern and not accusatory).
  • It’s been a challenging year so far, how are you finding it’s having an impact on you?
  • Is there anything you are feeling uncertain about in terms of your role that you’d like to ask me about?
  • How have you been finding working from home? Is there anything you are struggling with? 
  • Is there anything I can do to help you right now?
  • How are things going, both inside and outside of work?
  • How is your general wellbeing at the moment? 
  • Would anybody like to share some of their own experiences around mental health and wellbeing? (Ideal for group discussions, although you may need to lead with your own experiences first).

You may also want to run an anonymous staff wellbeing questionnaire to gather insights and data that people may not feel comfortable sharing face-to-face.

7. Be Open and Honest Yourself

Finally, if we want to ask others to open up around us then it’s important we lead by example. Avoid a “Do as I say, not as I do” approach where you encourage people to talk but then remain tight-lipped about your own health and wellbeing. 

You don’t need to share absolutely everything about your experiences, but opening up can create more trust within your team. If you find that people are struggling to start conversations, then you may want to lead with some of your own experiences, journey, and strategies.