Opening the box, talking about mental wellbeing at work

25th June 2019

With the increased attention that’s been given to mental health issues it’s perhaps not surprising that more and more managers are having to have conversations about people’s mental health issues. We’re being encouraged to be open and honest about issues such as anxiety, depression and issues of mental health.

According to the government-commissioned ‘Thriving at Work’ report, people with mental health problems still feel stigmatised, and are not getting the support they need. Over a fifth, (22%) of UK employees went into work when feeling mentally ill last year, up from 18% in 2016 (Personnel today, Oct 2018) and it’s suggested that one in four of us will, at some stage, experience problems with our mental health.

Many employers and managers remain unsure as to how to provide the proper support, when mental health problems are disclosed in the workplace. Talking about people’s mental health can feel like a sensitive subject but managers we have a duty of care to encourage conversations around mental health and need to be prepared to normalise the fact that we all need help at times.

As managers, we need to be able to hear some tough stuff and to be able to deal with difficult emotions that might arise in this type of conversation. It’s my belief that we’re talking about some new skills for managers to acquire and a different set of personal competencies, than the ones we usually need to create an engaged and productive team.

We can’t, nor should we try to ‘fix’ the persons problems. We need to be able to REALLY listen without judgment. We need to know our own capabilities and be able to recognise when we need to refer someone for additional help, maybe via EAP etc.

We also need to be able to practice ‘good self-care.’ As a psychotherapist I receive regular ‘supervision’ which is a big part of my self-care. Listening to other people’s stories and struggles can be emotionally draining and we can be left carrying some of what people share with us.

Good self-care could be in the form of;

  • managing your own boundaries and being clear on your role and the responsibilities that you have for the individual
  • sharing worries and concerns with peers, so that you can support and encourage each other
  • having an opportunity to discuss how conversations are impacting you
  • being clear on the support that’s available, in the organisation, for both you and the individual.

Once we start conversations about people’s mental health, we’ve opened the box and we need to be there, ready to deal with whatever surfaces. I help managers develop the skills needed to open up these conversations, and to handle the emotional impact that often ensues.

If you would like to support your own management team in developing the skills needed to support peoples mental health in the workplace; please get in touch!