Mental health: it’s time to encourage conversations at work

Onebright's Sarah Carter calls for people to open up about their mental health

People are being encouraged to talk about mental health today by starting conversations with colleagues, friends, and family. 

Encouraging employees who may struggle to have these conversations in the workplace can make everyone feel more comfortable talking to colleagues about problems they may be facing.

For most, feelings of anxiety are overcome and tackled head-on, but for some, it all becomes too much, and the stress of this situation leads to meetings and plans being cancelled, the person affected becoming more socially recluse or a reduction in performance and productivity. 

It is important for business leaders and those at senior management levels within organisations to support those who may be reluctant to talk about their mental health, and that starts with normalising these conversations at work.

Here are some ways to encourage conversations on mental health in the workplace to better support employee mental health.

1. Listen and educate

It can be challenging for someone to open up about how they’re truly feeling. Some mental health issues are mild, whilst others are profoundly complex. If an employee decides to talk to you about their thoughts and feelings, don’t judge; lend an ear. Sometimes the most significant step is admitting how they are feeling to someone, especially if they have been battling with their problems alone for a while.

Listen intently, be patient and educate yourself on what they may be dealing with. Psychoeducation plays a big role in the recovery of that person, so it can only help you understand their issues. Remember you are not taking the role of a clinician; explain avenues available for them to seek professional help and encourage them to do so at the earliest opportunity.

2. Be careful with your vocabulary

The point here is not to tiptoe around someone as if walking on eggshells. That makes your communication with them unnatural. Instead, be aware of phrases or words that are often intertwined with mental health.

An example would be “that’s so OCD”, which is essentially a throwaway comment said in response to a repeated act. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a complex condition that can significantly impact an individual’s functioning, anxiety, and mood. This type of comment can be quite uncomfortable for someone genuinely struggling with OCD. 

The same goes for comments like “she’s so depressing.” No one would like to hear comments like this being made. It’s about being aware of the language you use around mental health, especially to the person who may be struggling with it.

3. Spot the signs

If the employee in question has opened up to you about how they’re feeling, then over time, you’re likely to pick up on signs that portray how their mental state is. For example, they may stop responding to your work emails or calls, or they may be irritable, on edge or lack energy for simple daily tasks. 

This type of behaviour can present warning signs that they are in a difficult place, and you should offer your support where necessary. If you notice that they are struggling at work, it’s crucial to encourage them to seek help.

4. Don’t treat them differently

If someone is experiencing mental health difficulties, they are probably already feeling uncomfortable, confused, and sometimes misunderstood. Treating them differently will only make them feel worse, or they might feel like a burden. Positive adjustments may be needed to support an individual – and managers need to act without making the employee feel like a burden.

They will pick up on any change of treatment, so where possible, carry on communicating with them as you would any employee. It also helps ground them and bring a sense of ‘normal’ in their lives.

Why do managers need mental health training?

Training helps everyone from employers to executive leaders learn the tools for providing a mentally fit workplace that is good for business. There is an opportunity to learn about early identification principles, bolstered with CBT evidence-based interventions to support employees. This will help remove taboos surrounding mental health, vital to early detection and future-proofing employee mental wellbeing. 

Here are other ways to support employees:

Tea and chat

Set up a weekly tea and chat meeting for teams and departments to attend outside of their usual break times. We recommend setting this up in a comfortable environment (if the weather is good, find a nice outdoor space), don’t forget you can do an online meeting if your team is remote. It is important to also offer this to any employees working remotely. Grab some biscuits, a cup of something warm, and talk about something neutral. Don’t discuss work. 

Conversation starters:

  • Talk about their hobbies
  • Talk about their weekend or after work plans 
  • Ask what made them smile today
  • Talk about any new books, films or TV series.
  • Their favourite foods and recipes 

 Appoint a Mental Health Champion

Enrol one person, or multiple people if you have a big team, to become your Mental Health Champions. All businesses have first aiders who you can go to in case of a physical medical issue, but many don’t have a Mental Health Champion who people can talk to and confide in.

By providing professionally delivered mental health training to your Champions, you can develop peer-to-peer network support within your organisation. You are creating an environment in which the individual may feel more comfortable discussing any issues they may be having.  

The post-pandemic world has presented obstacles in everyone’s lives, and it is important to support all employees who have had to adapt to many new situations over the past years. Having the patience to listen to employees, introducing Mental Health Champions, and offering time to talk while working remotely are some helpful ways to encourage conversations on mental health at work.

By Onebright’s Head of Account Management Sarah Carter.

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