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Mental Health in the Workplace – How to Help your Employees

Each situation will be very different, so it’s important to treat each with care and compassion. We’ve highlighted some of the most effective ways of helping your employees through any periods of mental ill-health.

Encouraging Employees to Talk About Mental Health

If poor mental health is suspected or disclosed, it’s crucial that line managers facilitate an early conversation about the person’s needs, to identify and implement appropriate support or adjustments.

While mental ill-health is a sensitive and personal issue, most people prefer honest and open enquiries over reluctance to address the issue. Often employees will not feel confident in speaking up, so a manager making the first move to open up a dialogue can be key, and the following are some important considerations for this process: –

  • Responding to disclosure – if a member of your team discloses to you that they are experiencing poor mental health, it’s essential you have a conversation with them about their needs.
  • Choose an appropriate place – it’s important to make people feel comfortable; therefore, it’s good to have the conversation somewhere private and quiet.
  • Avoid making assumptions – it can be difficult for people to disclose information relating to their mental health, so make it easier by keeping an open mind and giving them space to talk it out.
  • Embed confidentiality – people can understandably be anxious about disclosing, so be prepared to assume responsibility for some confidential and sensitive information.
  • Respond flexibly – mental distress affects people in different ways and at different times in their lives, so be prepared to adapt your support to suit the individual.
  • Develop an action plan – work with your team member to develop an individual action plan.
  • Encourage them to seek support – people should speak to their GP about available support from the NHS, such as talking therapies. If your organisation has an employee assistance programme, it may be able to arrange counselling.
  • Reassure them – people may not always be ready to talk straight away, so it’s important that you outline what support is available.
  • Seek advice if you need to – if you’re still unsure, the person lacks insight or an issue is particularly complex, seek advice from expert organisations such as the CIPD, Mind, Centre for Mental Health, Mindful Employer, or your local Mind or GP

Wellness Action Plans

Given the high levels of stress and poor mental health we are seeing in the workplace, there is a growing demand for innovative and proactive ways of managing our mental health at work.

A Wellness Action Plan (WAP) is a personalised, practical tool we can all use – whether we have a mental health problem or not – to help identify what keeps us well at work, what causes us to become unwell and the support we would like to receive from our manager to boost our well-being or support us through a recovery.

As a manager, encouraging your staff to draw up a WAP gives them ownership of the practical steps needed to help them stay well at work or manage a mental health problem. It also opens up a dialogue between you and your team member, to help you better understand their needs and experiences and therefore better support their well-being. This in turn can lead to greater productivity, better performance and increased job satisfaction.

WAPs are also particularly helpful during the return-to-work process, when someone has been off work because of a mental health problem, as they provide a structure for conversations around what support and/or reasonable adjustments might be useful.

By regularly reviewing the agreed, practical steps in the WAP, you can support your team member to adapt it to reflect their experiences or new approaches they find helpful. By allowing the individual to take ownership of the process and of the WAP itself, you will be empowering them to feel more in control.

Adjustments for Employees

In terms of support needed as an employer you may need to make workplace adjustments for individuals.

In relation to mental health, more often the obstacles are less tangible and relate to negotiating the social, rather than the physical, world of work. However, effective adjustments can be simple, low cost and are generally changes in practice or requirements, such as flexible working hours or increasing one-to-one supervision.

An employer is only under a duty to make adjustments that are reasonable, which will depend on the circumstances of the case. Potential adjustments should be considered on a case-by-case basis, but factors which may be helpful to consider include:

  • the effectiveness of the adjustment in preventing the disadvantage
  • the practicability of making the adjustment
  • the extent to which making the adjustment would impact on service delivery, financial and other costs
  • and the potential impact on colleagues.

Both the employee and manager need to be clear about the considerations that will be taken into account in reviewing whether an adjustment is reasonable and practicable to implement. Adjustments for mental health are often simple and it is best practice to offer support to all staff, whether or not they have a formal diagnosis or a disability according to the legal definition.

The return to the workplace after a prolonged period working remotely is having a negative impact on poor workplace mental health, even more so that was already experienced pre-pandemic.

Those employers that take a proactive approach to wellness and workplace mental health can help mitigate the potential risk to business, productivity, reputation and employee retention.

Do you need any help in writing or reviewing your employee welfare, mental health and stress risk assessment? Please contact Armour Risk Consulting for a free consultation at or on 0131 516 1767.

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.