Is talking about mental health leaving you anxious as a manager?

Mental health issues are a real problem even though a lot of us may still be reluctant to address them. 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from some kind of mental health issue. Based on this fact, as a manager, you will come across this issue. So instead of avoiding the issue, and sticking your head in the sand (like an ostrich), why not focus on how to address it. We participated in an interesting talk by Claire Price at the Health and Wellbeing @ Work 2016 exhibition, and here is what we took away from it:

It may sound like a scary ailment, but a mental health issue can be many things. Most of us come across it in the workplace as stress or depression, but it could also be anxiety due to financial concerns (financial wellbeing) for example. As a manager you will often sense early on when something is up with one of your employees, and as you’ve probably heard before, early intervention is essential.

But how do you address mental health issues?

This is a question many managers struggle with, maybe because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. But this conversation should not be feared. The most important objective of a conversation with an employee showing signs of struggling in the workplace, is to give them the opportunity to open up. This will already go a long way toward helping the employee get better.

6 steps to help approach the difficult conversations

With these 6 (relatively) easy steps you should be well prepared to have this difficult conversation:

  1. Don’t avoid the issue. Bring it up right up front.
  2. Think about your body language. As with any other interview situation, you should think about your body language so as not to come across as uninterested or aggressive.
  3. Make sure you listen. It seems like a simple advice, but it cannot be repeated often enough.
  4. Find out what the individual needs are for the employee.
  5. DO NOT give the employee advice on their situation. This is not your role. If you can, help them get in touch with the qualified resources that can give relevant advice on the issues, and express an interest in supporting them.
  6. And don’t forget not to reduce the employee to their issues; they are more than their issue, so have a chat about other things in their lives as well.

Agree an action plan

And then agree on an action plan with the employee and put this is writing. This may seem overwhelming to the employee at first, but it should be introduced as a tool to make sure that actions are being planned to help and support them. There is a joint responsibility between the employee and the employer to help the employee get better and this is what this agreement should outline. The plan should focus on reasonable adjustments, temporary or permanent, to help the employee remain at work or return to work, if absent.

An advantage of putting the action plan in writing is that if the line manager changes while adjustments and other actions are still being carried out, the employee will not have to explain the whole situation to the new manager all over again, thus avoiding more stress on the employee.

Consider these steps and get ready to address you next mental health issue at work head on. If you need help making sure early intervention is taken in every case, Engage absence management solution can help you make sure you know straight away if someone goes absent with a mental health related reason and can put these tips into action.


For further reading, see Fit for Work article on talking about mental health.