Mental Health At Work: How to support employees who are struggling

4 min read

Being able to support employees who are struggling with mental health issues is a crucial aspect of management in any organisation. Mental health and work are no longer separate aspects of life.

The impact of working life

While the mental health awareness is growing, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. What is mental health? Who decides what “normal” is? Some of the more commonly experienced challenges are often classified as anxiety and depression. The feelings that accompany these diagnoses can impact one’s way of thinking, perception and behaviour. These can (but don’t have to) be caused by difficult life and/or work-related events and stress. 

HR leaders and managers are well used to supporting employees with physical disabilities, however they often struggle when it comes to those dealing with mental health issues.

What’s more, symptoms experienced by employees who suffer from mental health-related issues, can often be intensified in the workplace. These can be compounded in situations where the pressure to succeed and requirement to effectively communicate are constant. 

For the above reasons, it is crucial that HR teams, leaders and managers are aware of what to look out for when it comes to employees affected by mental health challenges and that they have policies and procedures in place that they can turn towards when required.


How to spot mental health issues at work?

Trying to identify someone affected by a specific mental issue is a dangerous ground. We all at different times in life experience what could be classified as depression, anxiety or other disorders! While you should never make assumptions, it’s important to be able to notice when something is not quite right. By identifying employees struggling with mental health issues as early as possible, we’re creating an environment that can prevent worsening of the issues. 


So what are some of the signs you should be looking out for?

  • Changes in someone’s mood or behaviour

  • Changes in how one interacts with other people

  • Significant decrease in one’s performance, or other change to what you’d consider as his/her “standard” work level

  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn

  • Drastic change in diet  

  • Significantly increased smoking and drinking

  • Consistent late arrival 

  • Increase in sick leave

It’s important to remember that not everyone who exhibits above behaviours is affected by the mental illness and similarly, not everyone affected by the mental illness would exhibit above “symptoms”. 


What can you do if you suspect that one of your staff members is struggling? 

Simply ask them how they’re doing. Ensure that they know they can trust you, that they are in a safe environment, that you won’t judge and you have their back. This might help to instill trust allowing your employee(s) to feel more comfortable to open up about how they feel and what they’re going through. It’s important to remain calm, patient, non-judgmental and supportive. Having a clear mental health policy and dedicated support initiatives in place is what could aid managers and HR leaders in approaching the topic. This is also helpful in cases when an employee actively approaches their manager or HR team to discuss their mental health. 

There might also be those who are affected by mental health struggles yet not willing or able to discuss it. Avoid rushing or pressuring them into conversations, but monitor them and make sure they know you are there to help if they need it. 

How can your organisation help?

Consider making adjustments that will help the employee to carry on with their duties. Reducing pressure of their work could be as simple as allowing more breaks throughout the day or taking time to help them set priorities for each day or week. Confidentiality needs to be remembered though when introducing any changes. Try to keep the changes as low key as possible to avoid highlighting or exposing your employees to others. 

It may be the case that the issues are so overwhelming that your employee might need time off work. In such instance ensure that you:

  • Agree on how you can maintain a regular contact with the employee

  • Remain supportive, non-judgmental and patient

  • Confirm what information can be passed on to the colleagues

  • Encourage a phased, gradual approach to returning to office

Why is mental health awareness so important?

Good mental health is what allows people to work, grow, flourish and complete their goals. When employees are thriving mentally, their productivity is boosted which directly benefits organisations. However, this works both ways which means caring for employees’ mental health is something that can no longer be overlooked by any organisation.

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