Let’s talk – discussing mental health at work

By February 20, 2018Advice, Sickness Management

Mental health is a hot topic right now, especially when it comes to talking about it. People are now far more aware that the way to start combating poor mental health is to talk, as that will often be the catalyst for seeking help.


Ideally, employers should be able to have an open discussion with their employees about mental health. Considering it causes over 70 million working days to be lost each year, it should be treated in the same way as any other illness.


The difficulty of discussing mental health

Mental health problems can come in many forms, such as depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Unfortunately, there is often a stigma attached to mental health, but talking about it more should help change that.


Deminos advisor Chris Bechervaise says: “The biggest problem with mental health in the workplace is the reluctance of managers to engage with the problem. They often don’t know what to say to the employee and don’t really understand the problem.


“Mental health conditions are different to other illnesses in they are the only conditions which could cause changes in someone’s personality, and the way they interact with others.  Managers therefore tend to shy away.”


Employers can’t be expected to change their workplace culture overnight, but developing an environment where open and honest communication is encouraged will help. Let employees know that their managers are there to support them, and recognise the duty to make reasonable adjustments.


If you start the conversation…

It’s important to look for the signs of an underlying problem. This usually comes in the form of changes to an employee’s usual behaviour, which can include:


  • Lateness

  • Increased sickness absence

  • Problems with colleagues

  • Sudden changes in mood

  • Headaches

  • Tearfulness

  • Loss of humour

Regular appraisals, planning sessions and informal chats are a good opportunity to bring up any issues. Simply asking “how have you been lately?” can give an employee the chance to open up. It’s vital to listen and show empathy in order to offer the support needed.


If their performance has been affected, you should be honest and ask whether there are any problems that could be causing it. For example; “I’ve noticed that you’ve been arriving late recently and wondered if there was a problem.”


If someone comes to you…

You’ll need to understand that it isn’t easy to talk about mental health, not least with your employer. Many people are concerned that admitting mental health issues will put their job at risk, or leave them open to ridicule from colleagues.


Always reassure them that your conversation will be confidential, but that you may need to seek advice from HR, occupational health, or others.


Agree with the employee first about any action that will be taken before making any changes. If they feel they don’t want to talk at that moment in time, let them know you’re always available if needed.


If an employee does feel they can come to you, then consider it to be a positive step. You’ll have created a working culture where that can take place.


How Deminos can help

It’s important that managers are equipped with the skills and knowledge to enable them to have conversations about mental health issues without the worry of not knowing what to say, the fear of making things worse, or the fear of legal consequences.


Deminos can help you to create a workplace culture that encourages open, honest communication by providing on-site training for managers and teams.


We can also help you create well-designed work that will allow employees a degree of control over their own workload so to reduce stress.


Our Employee Assistance Programme can also give employees impartial advice regarding mental health. To learn more, please see www.deminos.co.uk/employee-assistance-programme or call 020 7870 1090.

Author David Ralph

More posts by David Ralph

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