Mental health – How to support an employee

By February 21, 2018Advice

If an employee has an issue relating to their mental health, it will often be difficult for them to tell their manager about it. Creating an honest, open and supportive workplace culture will help, as research has shown that many employees feel afraid of losing their job or have concerns about their colleagues finding out.


As a result, if you do become aware that one of your employees has a problem, it’s important to deal with it in the right way.



  • Have conversations about mental health privately. Talking outside the office would be best, but anywhere the employee feels comfortable and won’t be overheard will be fine.

  • Switch your phone off and don’t allow interruptions.

  • Focus on the employee’s problem – don’t become side-tracked.

  • Ask open questions to let the employee talk – “How have you been doing lately?”.

  • Give them time to answer.

  • Show empathy and try to understand. Put yourself in their position.

  • Arrange a follow up meeting to review the situation.


  • Don’t attempt to talk about the employee’s problem in front of other people.

  • Don’t start a conversation if you have another appointment soon.

  • Don’t ask questions that put pressure on the employee – “What’s wrong with you?”.

  • Don’t assume you know what’s wrong, or try to diagnose a condition.

  • Don’t ask several questions all at once. Let them answer in their own time.

  • Don’t tell them what they should do.

  • Don’t leave the issue indefinitely without arranging to follow up.


What to talk about

Once you’ve arranged a meeting with the employee and have sat down, ask them what is happening. Enquire as to how they’re feeling, and what the impact of their condition has been. Depending on the situation, you could ask what they think the solution could be and how the organisation can help make reasonable adjustments for them.


Without putting pressure on the employee, ask whether they’ve been having any problems at home. Also try to find out if work has been a contributing factor. Remember that you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 and to do so you need to be in possession of the full facts.


Agree with the employee what the next steps will be. Establish if anyone else needs to know, and what they want colleagues to know about. They should be made aware of sources of support available to them, such as counselling, an Employment Assistance Programme, or occupational health.


There should be a record of the meeting to protect both the organisation and the employee, with a copy issued to both parties.


Deminos can help

Deminos can give you advice on how to conduct meetings with employees about mental health. Managers need to possess the skills to have sensitive conversations, and know what to do next without potentially making the situation worse.


To learn more about mental health support at work, call 020 7870 1090 or see

Author David Ralph

More posts by David Ralph

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