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Managing Mental Health – Difficult Conversations

Having difficult or sensitive conversations about mental health is never easy but in today’s climate, employers and managers should be aware of how to conduct these conversations when the situation arises.

Here are a few pointers to bear in mind:

  • Choose an appropriate place – somewhere private and quiet where the person feels comfortable and equal. Possibly a neutral space outside of the workplace if you can.
  • Encourage people to talk – employees can find it difficult to talk about their mental health but it helps to have an open culture where conversations about mental health are routine and normalised. Ask simple, open and non-judgmental questions and let them explain in their own words how their mental health problem manifests, the triggers, how it impacts on their work and ask what support they need.
  • Don’t make assumptions – don’t try to guess what symptoms an employee might have and how these might affect their ability to do their job – many people (the ‘worried well’) are able to manage their mental health and perform their role to a high standard but may require support measures when experiencing a difficult period.
  • Listen and respond flexibly – everyone’s experience of a mental health problem is different so treat people as individuals and focus on the person, not the problem. Adapt your support to suit the individual and involve the individual as much as possible in finding solutions to any work-related difficulties they’re experiencing. Remember effective workplace adjustments are often quite individual but needn’t be costly or require huge changes.
  • Be honest and clear – if there are specific grounds for concern, like high absence levels or impaired performance, it’s important to address these at an early stage.
  • Ensure confidentiality – employees need to be reassured of confidentiality. This is sensitive information and should be shared with as few people as possible. Discuss with the individual what information they give consent to be shared and with whom.  Respect the employee’s medical confidentiality too if that becomes part of the process.
  • Develop an action plan – work with your employee to develop an individual action plan which identifies the signs of their mental health problem – for example – their stress or anxiety triggers, the possible impact on their work, who to contact in a crisis, and what support they need.

Where it is possible to identify a work-related problem, the manager (in discussion with the employee) should consider what support or changes would rectify the situation. They could be temporary or permanent.

Usually small, simple changes to working arrangements or responsibilities will be all that are required. For example, allowing them to have more rest breaks or working with them each day to help prioritise their workload.

  • An Occupational Health referral can also help to identify adjustments that should be made.
  • Encourage employees to seek advice and support – employees should speak to their GP about available support from the NHS and charitable organisations.
  • Seek advice and support yourself – For our Scottish clients, you can visit the Healthy Working Lives website or call 0800 019 2211.
    For our English clients, Fit for Work was a scheme that previously was helpful, this has now been closed and the government are directing folk away from this to ACAS for advice and support.
  • Reassure people – employees may not always be ready to talk straight away so it’s important you outline what support is available, tell them your door is always open and let them know you’ll make sure they get the support they need.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of getting Mental Health in the workplace correct, then our trusted partners at Greig Melville HR are here to help you. Contact them on 01324 628676 or email to see how they can solve your HR problems today.

Our content is correct at the date of publishing, but should not be taken as legal advice, and our articles don’t replace Risk Assessments. Armour will not be held accountable for any legal actions the reader may take.