Are You Talking to Your Employees About Their Mental Health?

December 25, 2023 • 4 minute read

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health crisis has surged, casting a shadow on wellbeing at the workplace. According to a 2023 employee wellness survey, 60% of respondents grapple with anxiety, while 56% exhibit two or more symptoms of clinical depression.  While mental health has become a buzzword in broader societal discussions, […]

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health crisis has surged, casting a shadow on wellbeing at the workplace. According to a 2023 employee wellness survey, 60% of respondents grapple with anxiety, while 56% exhibit two or more symptoms of clinical depression. 

While mental health has become a buzzword in broader societal discussions, the workplace—where statistics reveal the majority are affected—still consider the subject taboo. The expectation for employees to consistently bring their A-game, coupled with the fear of potential repercussions for admitting mental health struggles, fosters a culture of silence. This, in turn, fuels the costly phenomenon of presenteeism—where employees show up but can’t really work due to mental strain. The impact? A hefty price tag for UK employers, ringing in at around £15 billion annually, or an average of $2,500-3,000 per employee in the US, depending on the industry. Furthermore, there’s the undeniable toll mental health issues take on employees’ physical wellbeing and the concerning decline in overall happiness at work.

As an employer, it’s crucial not only to recognize the tangible threat posed by the mental health crisis but also to actively work towards its alleviation, for your bottom line, and more importantly, the wellbeing of your fellow human beings.

How to Bring up Mental Health At Work

Initiating a discussion about mental health in the workplace is challenging for many employers, given the deep-seated scepticism that employees harbour on the genuineness of their employers’ concern.

Establishing a foundation of mutual trust and respect is the first step to nurturing an environment conducive to open and honest conversations. This means that the blame-centric culture prevalent in many workplaces should be dismantled and strict measures against the improper use of confidential information implemented.

After this psychologically safe environment is created, employers can use the strategies described below to initiate meaningful dialogue regarding mental health:

  • Acknowledge the Stigma

Begin by recognizing the existence of the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s essential to acknowledge that this stigma is rooted in societal norms and often perpetuated by the shame associated with mental health challenges. Create a platform for employees to express themselves without the fear of judgement, ridicule or discrimination. Consider organising seminars or retreats away from the office setting, providing a neutral and comfortable environment for these discussions.

  • Provide Mental Health Resources

Understand that some mental health issues are deeply personal and may not be suitable for open group discussions. Recognise the need for confidential and individualised support by including access to licensed therapists in your occupational health package. This allows employees facing more profound challenges to seek assistance in a private and personalised setting, reinforcing your commitment to their well-being.

Ensure that the routes for seeking help are accessible yet discreet. If you have an in-house mental health professional, consider situating their office in a reserved section of the workplace. This subtle placement allows employees to seek support without drawing unnecessary attention which may compromise their sense of privacy and confidentiality.

  • Foster Constructive Feedback:

Establish a culture that encourages both giving and receiving feedback on interpersonal interactions. However, ensure that the feedback process is gentle, constructive and devoid of judgement. Creating a space where employees can share their concerns or observations freely encourages honesty and openness. 

Run regular anonymous surveys to gather feedback on the overall mental health climate within the organisation. This provides insights into areas that may require improvement and allows for targeted interventions.

  • Organise Mental Health Training For Managers

Training programs for managers are pivotal in creating a mentally healthy workplace. These programs go beyond conventional management skills to provide leaders with the tools for recognizing and discussing subtle signs of mental health challenges among team members. 

Equipped with the knowledge to identify potential issues early on, managers become proactive advocates for their team’s wellbeing. This training ensures that managers not only respond empathetically to mental health concerns but also guide employees toward appropriate resources and support.

  • Lead by Example

As a leader, showing vulnerability and prioritising your mental well-being isn’t just about personal growth; it’s a transformative act that ripples through the entire organisation. By recounting personal anecdotes of navigating moments of anxiety, fear or burnout, leaders promote transparency. This approach also communicates a crucial message: addressing mental health challenges is not a sign of weakness but an integral part of professional development.

In addition, consider sharing the strategies that helped overcome those tough times. This not only demystifies the discussion around mental health but also equips the team with practical tools for their own wellbeing. Such leadership sets the tone for a workplace that values the holistic health of its members.

  • Conduct Regular Check-ins

Regular one-on-one check-ins between employees and managers make for a healthy and connected workplace. This forum gives room for meaningful conversations where workloads, challenges and wellbeing can be discussed, in a friendly and conversational manner. This way, employees feel seen, heard and valued beyond their output. 

This personalised approach doesn’t just address immediate work concerns; it opens a door for honest discussions concerning the progress and state of the employee. It also gives the intuitive manager a chance to notice subtle shifts—perhaps signs of stress or disengagement—and address them promptly.

Focusing on Mental Health is Highly Rewarding

While creating a psychologically safe workplace might seem like an additional effort amid various other concerns, the benefits are substantial. First, there’s the fulfilment of knowing you’re positively impacting someone’s life. But, it’s not just a feel-good initiative; it’s a savvy business move. Research by Deloitte shows that for every £1 invested in mental health interventions, employers stand to gain £5.30 in reduced absences, presenteeism and staff turnover.

Initiating effective mental health programs begins with investing in an efficient Occupational Health Management (OHM) system. To find out more about one of the market’s top-performing solutions, click here.


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