How business leaders should approach mental health in the workplace

- Leadership - May 16, 2017

According to mental health charity Mind, one in 6 adults experiences a mental health problem, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, each week. That’s 5.3 million workers across the UK.

It’s having a huge impact on employees. Mind’s survey found 42 percent of staff have thought about resigning over workplace stress, and 14 percent have done so.

But it’s not just workers who are suffering – poor mental health is costing employers, too:

  • Businesses across the UK lose an estimated £15.1bn due to lower productivity.
  • Staff turnover costs £2.4bn.
  • Stress and other mental health issues are responsible for 70 million days of employee absence.

And yet the issue is still faced with silence: 30 percent of employees don’t think they can talk to their line manager about how they’re feeling.

The promising stat is that most employers (56 percent) want to improve staff wellbeing – they just don’t know how.

So, let’s talk about how to notice when an employee is struggling with mental health, and what you can do to help.

How to notice mental health in the workplace

Employers and managers need to take the lead to create an atmosphere where employees are comfortable talking about mental health. This means taking initiative to acknowledge when people might be struggling and giving them a chance to talk about it.

A manager who is in touch with their team will probably be able to notice when something seems ‘off’. It might be a change in the way someone talks to their colleagues or a clear shift in their mood. Or it could be performance based – perhaps the quality of their work has changed drastically, or they’ve been absent frequently.

Maybe it’s a combination of all the above. Regardless of the signs, it’s important to approach them in the right way.

How to speak to an employee about mental health

If you believe an employee is struggling with stress, anxiety, or another mental health issue, don’t just ignore it. As the statistics show, turning a blind eye can hurt both them and the business in the long run. 

It’s important to be sensitive and confidential when approaching the subject. Mind recommends that you:

  1. Find somewhere appropriate to talk privately and discretely.
  2. Ask them about how they’re feeling in a supportive, non-accusatory way. Make sure they know the conversation is confidential. Tell them you want to hear their feedback, and you’re willing to make changes to help, if they need it.
  3. Let them talk, and listen carefully to what they’re saying.
  4. Based on what they’ve said, think about how you can help. While it might not be possible to do anything immediately, tell them you want to make things easier. This might include offering flexible working, reducing their workload, increasing your support, or arranging unpaid leave.
  5. If they’re unwilling to talk, voice your concerns compassionately and honestly. Tell them you’ve noticed a change, and you want to help so you can both move forward in a positive way.

Creating a ‘mentally healthy’ workplace

Beyond helping individuals, there are many ways to create a workplace environment that encourages better mental health:

  • Be sensitive to work-life balance and offer solutions, such as flexible or remote working.
  • Be transparent and have open conversations about the business to update employees about what’s going on.
  • Make them feel valued and noticed by giving feedback and taking the time to celebrate achievements, as well as asking for feedback – and acting on it.
  • Making things as easy as possible for them by improving organisation, offering training, and setting out clear responsibilities and manageable targets.

Now’s the time for employers to step up and take control of mental health in the workplace by having open conversations with workers and creating a collaborative and positive atmosphere.

By Jason Downes, MD of 

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