How to talk about mental health in the workplace

Mental health has recently become a buzzword that most employees are using to attract and retain staff. Some companies are really invested in the staff wellbeing, some still have a long way to go. In the most recent report, Office for National Statistics reported that 36% of adults felt high anxiety levels. It was exceptionally high in the 16-29-year-old group (40%). These statistics show that talking about mental health at work is becoming increasingly important.

If you want to learn what can be the signs of your work affecting your mental health negatively, make sure you read this post.

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Personal disclaimer

This article is going to be very personal. As an employee who has experienced mental and physical health issues during the pandemic and as a person who wants to improve workspace communication, I feel that it is vital that I speak up about mental health at work and share advice to support those who struggle. If you have any advice you would like to share, please leave it in the comments so we can all learn.

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I am not a mental health professional and if you are experiencing any issues, please follow up with your GP or mental health professional. You can also contact Samaritans, which is a free service.

Why employees don’t talk about their mental health

Mental health stigma can be a barrier for employees who wish to talk openly about their issues. You don’t need to have a diagnosed mental issue, such as depression or anxiety to discuss the impact of your work on mental health. However, there are several reasons why employees hesitate to talk about it:

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  • Fear of losing their job or missing out on a promotion – as an employer you can advocate for the employees that their mental health will not be affecting their position at work
  • Worry over coworkers and their managers judging them – providing training on supporting mental health among employees, can elleviate some misconceptions about mental health issues.
  • Not wanting to be seen as being given special treatment – providing training on diversity, equity and inclusion can further aid creating more understanding workplace and make employees more accustomed to talking about mental health
  • Witnessing harassment or bullying of others who have talked about mental health – this is a tough one to address if this hasn’t been raised on the company forum. However, the company leaders can start sharing their own stories surrounding mental health. Seeing members of the C-suite share their vulnerabilities, can make employees more open to share their own and create an understanding that anyone can experience these issues.

The benefits of talking about mental health in the workplace for your employer

It may sound strange the first time you think about it, but actually talking about mental health at work can benefit your employer. Taking time to resolve issues that staff has as a consequence of the environment we are in now or just their own work can have tremendous benefits:

Your mental health can be affected by your work without you even realizing it, so make sure you support creating an open and honest environment at work.

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Talking about mental health at work can increase productivity and job performance

Being open about your work affecting your mental health can be a signal to your company to review your role and responsibilities. Your company can support you in establishing achievable tasks and regular reviews.

Having a clear plan and goals can help you feel more confident and alleviate some of the anxiety, leading to higher levels of productivity. It can also support your understanding of the impact you are making and your performance on an ongoing basis. Knowing that you are doing indeed a good job, can go a long way for your well-being.

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HOWEVER, if you are a boss, make sure that you are not micromanaging a struggling employee, as this will only have a negative effect on their wellbeing and job performance. Instead, set easy tasks and establish achievable deadlines and empower your employee to deliver these by themselves. Showing that you trust them with their workload (but are available to support them when they need it) can help build a great relationship and improve employees’ performance.

It is hard to get the balance right between letting the employees work on their own and micromanaging, especially when they are struggling with the workload or when their mental health is affected. We will talk in a couple of weeks about how to establish a good boss-employee relationship to make this process smooth.

Talking about mental health at work can improve employee attraction and retention

As we all learn about the importance of mental health, more people pay attention to this when looking for a new role. Having a defined employee mental health strategy and sharing it outside the company as well, can have a great impact on the quality of staff the company will attract. Furthermore, employees that feel supported will be more likely to remain at the company. One of the reasons why employees (especially millennials) leave their job posts is not feeling that they make an impact, therefore feeling more anxious. Because of the high expectations that we have for ourselves, it is easy to miss the great impact that we have. Supporting employees with their mental health includes celebrating their achievements and making them feel seen and appreciated. With these principles at the core of the company’s HR strategy, it is more likely that your staff will be satisfied and remain at the job post.

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But it’s not only that. There are plenty of resources that employers can use to support mental health at the workplace. There are apps that can be offered to employees to support their wellbeing, coaching sessions, or implementation of mental health first-aiders.

Talking about mental health at work can prevent sick days due to anxiety or depression

According to Health and Safety Executive website in 2019/2020, each person suffering from anxiety and depression took on average 21.6 days off. The average for all health issues is 17.6 days. Mental health had the highest average in this statistic and the highest total number of days off 17.9 mln). Time taken off is not only a cost to the employer for the cost of sick days taken but also the cost of delays in projects and required substitutions for the roles (or skipping the work completely).

Addressing mental health issues before they become severe enough for the time off work, can support the employees and reduce the time taken off work. Many employees will not open up about their issues though if the workplace is not actively promoting talking about mental health. You may not be even aware that the time off was taken due to poor mental health as employees will often mention feeling ‘unwell’, without stating mental health as a reason.

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The benefits of talking about mental health in the workplace for you

When we feel supported and empowered to talk about mental health issues in the workplace, we can be more open. Talking directly about the issues we are experiencing can have a direct impact on:

Being able to express your issues and be supported by your boss and the company can help reducing burn out and stress. Having a clear action plan and communication can increase your productivity and actually make you feel better about the work that you are doing. Having regular communication can help you to understand what is required from you to satisfy the basic requirements of the job, how to achieve a good standard, and what is considered an outstanding performance. You might be surprised, that you have been delivering an outstanding performance without realizing it.

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Talking about mental health in the workplace can help you feel more included at work

Being able to openly share how you feel can create deeper bonds between you and your colleagues. Being a part of the wider community and feeling included, can also raise your job satisfaction levels.

We seem to distance ourselves from environments where we don’t feel inclusion when we feel somehow ‘different’. This can be especially apparent in terms of mental health and talking about your struggles.

I have recently been a part of the conversation when a colleague admitted that they were struggling long-term with their well-being and opened up about the issue. I have never felt so understood at work as in that moment, as I have had my personal share of struggles in the last year or so (as most of us had actually). However, when talking about it with colleagues I would downplay it and just focus on the physical aspect of my problems. Now I know that my peers are open to having deeper conversations and I believe it brought us closer as a team.

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Talking about mental health at work can improve your job satisfaction

I have previously shared how your mental health can be affecting your job satisfaction and how to address that, however, I believe that it is important to include this here too.

Making sure that your mental health is addressed at work and re-designing your workload or even your schedule to support this can have tremendous benefits. Building a relationship with your boss and getting regular feedback on your performance, can also help you feel more satisfied at work as you no longer wondering.

I find this to be a really good way to improve both mental health and job satisfaction – having clearly defined duties and understanding what means a basic performance, what means a good one, and what will be considered excellent can alleviate a lot of anxiety.

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How can you start the conversation about mental health in the workplace


If you would like to discuss your struggles with your employer, you can try the below process:

  1. Write down (preferably over a few days) how you feel, what tasks make you anxious, when you are procrastinating the most. Is there something which makes you feel worse? Are you postponing specific tasks? Why? Maybe you are not sure where to start or what is actually required from you? You can treat this as a journalling exercise. This part is only for you to help you understand yourself better.
  2. Spend some time re-reading and thinking about the issues. Write down main points of what you have journaled about. Pick up the patterns and re-phrase them that they can be shared with your employer.
  3. Think about possible solutions. Do you need time off work or would adjusting your workload be sufficient? Do you need a different work pattern or would you prefer to work more as a part of a team instead of on your own. Maybe working from home is affecting your work-life balance? Or do you need better understanding of what are the core duties of your role?
  4. List what you enjoy about your role. Maybe there are certain duties that you would like to do more of?
  5. Let your employer know you have something important to talk to them about, you can mention at this point that this is to discuss your wellbeing at work. You can start with your boss if you have a good relationship, HR or workplace mental health aider.
  6. Give examples of how your mental health impacts your work and vice versa – what elements of your role make you feel anxious or stressed. Use the journalling exercise from step 1.
  7. Provide suggestions on how you can be supported. Giving suggestions to your boss on how to solve problems is always a great idea if you are coming with an issue to them. It also ensures that you get a solution that you actually need and not what they think you might need.
  8. Share with them what you enjoy about the role and state what duties would you like to focus on. This shows them that you actually are enjoying the role, just struggling with some elements of it or the structure. This makes the conversation way more positive.
  9. Ask the person how to proceed from here. Does company already have procedures around supporting employees mental health? Or does it need to be worked out? Ask which elements that you suggested could be implemented immediately so you can start improving straight away.
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What can companies do to support workers communicate more openly about mental health issues

To summarise what can company leaders take away from this article and how can they support their employees:

  • create a culture of inclusion – including mental diversity – provide training on mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion to guide employees towards more understanding of the issues
  • support struggling employees with reviewing their workloads and responsibilities without downgrading their roles
  • provide support but avoid micromanaging – show trust to the employee, but ensure they are supported when they need it
  • have company leaders share their own mental healt stories to empower you employees
  • provide support in terms of resources, such as apps, coaching and mental health first aiders

What would you add to this list?

2 Comments

  1. This is a really good blog post! I agree it is so important employers do more to encourage mental health conversations in the workplace, especially after this pandemic! Thanks for sharing!

    Feel free to read some of my blogs 🙂

    Like

    1. Klaudia says:

      Thank you! I see you focus on mental health, that’s amazing!

      Like

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