For Employers

How to Have Conversations with Employees about Mental Health

Sometimes people worry about how to approach a conversation about a person’s mental health, but there are no special skills needed – just the ones you use every day as a people manager like common sense, empathy, being approachable, and listening.

If you do nothing, problems can spiral, with a negative impact for the person, their work colleagues, and your business.

Below are some tips for having a conversion about mental health:

1. Choose an appropriate place

Somewhere private and quiet where the person feels comfortable. Try to ensure there won’t be any disruptions and give ample time for the conversation.

2. Be honest and clear

If there are specific reasons for your concern, like frequent absences or impaired performance, it’s important to address these specifically.

3. Ensure confidentiality

People need to be reassured of confidentiality. Tell the employee that they do not need to share private details about their mental health, and that if they choose to, you will keep it confidential.

4. Encourage openness

People can find it difficult to talk about their mental health but it helps to have an open culture where conversations about mental health are routine and normalised. In a workplace, there are rules that protect employee privacy around their health. It is possible to provide the needed support and encouragement in a non-judgemental way. Ask simple, open and non-judgemental questions. If there are work impacts, tell the employee clearly that you will need to address that, and it is important for them to get help to reduce those impacts. Give a clear message of support and empathy.

5. Listen and respond flexibly

Everyone’s experience of a mental health problem is different, so treat people as individuals and focus on the person, not the problem. Don’t make assumptions or be judgemental, really listen to what they have to say.

6. Develop an action plan

Work with your employee to develop an individual action plan that includes assessment of their mental health problem, triggers for stress, the possible impact on their work, who to contact in a crisis, and what support is needed. The plan should include an agreed time to review the support measures to see if they’re working.