Having the conversation: tips for leaders

Dec 15, 2015

Reaching out to an employee who may be struggling with a mental health condition requires compassion and a well thought-out plan. Having a manager show genuine concern increases the likelihood of a positive response and the person taking further steps to get support.

Providing initial support can be as simple as noticing any changes in the employee’s behaviour, asking if they’re OK and being available to discuss support options.

If you think an employee may be experiencing a mental health condition, it’s important to take action immediately, particularly if you are concerned the person is a danger to themselves or others.

This can take many forms, but all should have the same simple starting point – having a conversation.

Before making contact with the employee, get up to speed with all available support options – find out what services are available within your organisation and if you work in a larger business, find out if there is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Some workplaces also have Manager Assistance Programs (MAPs) to help managers deal with difficult situations, as well as providing useful resources and guidance for handling complex issues surrounding mental health conditions and their impact on a team.

If your workplace has a human resources department, this is an excellent place to gather information on support options.

Getting it right – timing, location and what to say

Choose an appropriate time and place to speak with the employee – it should be somewhere private where they feel comfortable.

Don’t worry if you don’t know quite what to say when you start the conversation; just by being open and supportive, you’re helping make a difference. In many cases it’s not about finding a solution – speaking openly and showing concern reduces the stigma associated with mental health and encourages people to take action.

Being understanding and discreet about any sensitive information the employee may share about their personal life or work conflicts will also go a long way to reduce stigma and give the employee confidence in taking action.

Finish the conversation with a plan, or suggest ideas about what to do next. If necessary, make any reasonable adjustments to the employee’s roles and responsibilities and manage absences as required.

Discuss options for further support – you might decide to talk about it again with the employee another time, or check in with them later about how they are going.

With the employee’s consent, involve other managers and leaders where necessary and ensure there are clear channels of communication between all involved parties.

Working with the employee and these key people will help to identify and remove negative factors in the workplace, not to mention getting your business get back to full productivity sooner.

For more practical tips and guidance, head to the Supporting a direct report section on the Heads Up website.


Man with glasses having a conversation with someone

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