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How Can You Approach an Employee Suffering from Mental Health in the Workplace?

Last updated: 05-18-2019

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How Can You Approach an Employee Suffering from Mental Health in the Workplace?

Once you’ve spotted the signs that an employee may be suffering from a mental health issue in the workplace, it’s not always to confront them about it in case you risk of causing them further distress.

But at the same time, you have a duty of care to your staff and to just ignore them would be just as detrimental to their health and wellbeing. So what do you do and how should you do it? Let our panel of experts help you.

The manager should approach the conversation without judgment and full of support.  Let the employee know that the they and the company support mental health in the workplace, and direct the employee to resources available to help them improve and manage their mental health.  Depending on the company, there may be policies in place for the manager to direct the employee to human resources.  In this case, the manager should follow the policies outlined by their company.

Best practice when it comes to approaching an employee who may be suffering from a mental health problem is to invite them somewhere private where they feel safe and relaxed. Set aside an hour and make it clear that you have time to talk so they don’t feel rushed or like they are taking up your time. Going off-site for a coffee can help a situation feel less intense and more informal. During your chat, use open ended questions which don’t require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer e.g. asking “How are you feeling at the moment?” rather than “Are you okay?”. It’s important to be a non-judgemental listener – stay calm and collected and be empathetic with what you hear. Don’t rush to fix any problems – ask what they think would help and how you can support them and make initial steps to put these in action.

They can raise their awareness of basic helping skills that any layperson can utilize. The skills represent a balance between sensitivity for the employee, expectations for the work environment, and positive views of mental health care, and the encouragement of the employee. Such skills are noted at this link which is focused on the college environment, but may be extrapolated to other settings.

Dr. Lee Keyes, is a Psychologist and Emeritus Director at the University of Alabama.

It’s important that there is an open and inclusive environment within your organisation and that all managers are equipped with the right tools to deal with mental health in the workplace. It’s also important that managers feel comfortable in having a conversation about mental health. Mind’s training can help equip line managers with the right skills and tools to recognise mental problems and support them to feel comfortable in having conversations. Additionally, the following tips can help when starting a conversation about mental health: Choose an appropriate place – somewhere private and quiet Encourage people to talk – ask simple, open and non-judgmental questions Listen to people and respond flexibly – adapt your support to suit the individual Be honest and clear – address specific grounds for concern at an early stage Reassure people – people may not always be ready to talk straight away

Asking simple questions about how an employee is and whether anything is affecting their performance can give them an opportunity to disclose a mental health issue or something personal going on in their lives.  Managers should not force someone to disclose a mental health issue, or suggest they are ill, but should explore conversations in a way that is not intrusive or judgemental.  If there are concerns about health or poor performance, managers should explore whether there is a health or disability issue – including mental health – before implementing any formal performance management steps.

It’s important to be open, honest, genuine, supportive and gentle but also not skirt around the topic. Give them some space to talk and think…but recognise that they may not want to talk to their manager about a topic that they’re coming to grips with themselves. If they’re not open for discussion, sign-posting to services that might help would be a great step.

The most important thing to remember is there isn’t a one size fits all approach. If you have a good personal relationship with the employee in question, arrange a meeting as soon as possible to talk to them in private. The conversation should be approached in a positive and supportive way. If your relationship is a more professional one, that employee may not feel comfortable speaking to you directly, you shouldn’t try to pressure them to talk. Instead, it may be best to simply ensure that they know you are available at any time and make them aware of the alternative support that’s on offer in the organisation.

If a manager is concerned about an employee, the best approach is to put aside some time and find a quiet private place to talk to them. It is important to be honest about the concerns without making assumptions, offer reassurance, encourage and allow the employee to talk and then ask what support would be helpful. Make sure you have details of additional available support to hand e.g. Employee Assistance Programme (if the employer has one), local NHS resources, Mental Health first aider etc

Paula Whelan, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Right Track Learning.

They just need to be observant, ask questions and listen, in that order. Broaching mental health with employees is incredibly difficult. You don’t want to diminish trust or harm your relationship by prying, or by going someplace that somebody doesn’t want to go or isn’t ready to go. If they want to tell you, they will tell you. But it’s really delicate, and for me, it’s just about asking how they are doing and spending time and actually listening. I think it’s part of the problem with the delivery of healthcare in the United States, in general. There isn’t a holistic approach that takes mental health into consideration, which is absolutely critical. Not including mental health is a big miss for a lot of companies.


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