Managing employees' wellbeing - Supporting mental health at work

Managing employees' wellbeing

Employers have a 'duty of care'. This means, as an employer, you must do all you reasonably can to support your employees' health, safety and wellbeing. This includes:

  • making sure employees can work safely and healthily
  • protecting employees from discrimination, for example making sure reasonable adjustments are made for disabled employees
  • carrying out risk assessments

You should also remind managers to communicate regularly with your teams. You should support them if they need to have sensitive conversations with their team members.

Creating a supportive environment

If employees feel they can talk openly about mental health, problems are less likely to build up. This could lead to:

  • less time off for poor mental health
  • improved morale at work

You must treat mental and physical health as equally important.

You should create an environment where your employees feel able to talk openly about mental health.

For example, you should:

  • make sure managers model positive wellbeing behaviours and use their voice to challenge stigma
  • make sure employees have regular meetings with their managers, to talk about any problems they're having
  • provide resources to support open conversations about mental health
  • increase awareness of mental health through training and campaigns
  • appoint mental health 'champions' who are trained to listen and tell staff where to get support

Find out more about promoting positive mental health at work, including:

  • understanding mental health
  • creating a mental health strategy
  • educating the workforce

Supporting your team

You should be approachable, available and encourage team members to talk to you if they're having problems.

Your management style should suit the needs of each person. For example, if someone is working from home you could ask them if they prefer to talk over the phone, through video meetings or by email.

You should keep in regular contact with your team to check how they're coping.

You should check:

  • how they're feeling
  • how their work is going and if they need support
  • if they have the right set up if they work from home

Find out more about mental health support and training

Assessing mental health at work

As an employer, you should talk to managers to understand how their teams are doing. You should find out which resources are helpful and if they need any more support.

If there is an online channel where employees share updates, it might be useful to regularly check it. This could help you understand employees’ concerns and areas where they need more support.

You could also use wellbeing surveys to understand:

  • how your employees are feeling at work
  • where the sources of stress are

Training managers

As an employer, you should train managers to:

  • talk and listen sensitively
  • have knowledge of mental health
  • know what support and guidance the organisation can offer

Training managers can give staff more confidence to talk about how their mental health affects their work.

You should train all managers, supervisors and team leaders to make sure they understand:

  • how the law relates to mental health at work
  • how to talk with and encourage staff to raise any mental health concerns
  • what support and workplace changes are available to staff – for example if someone needs a quieter place to work in an open plan office
  • how to deal with mental health sensitively and fairly

Acas provides training on mental health in the workplace.

Talking to someone with poor mental health

Knowing how to approach and talk to an employee who has a mental health problem might seem difficult.

As an employer, if you believe an employee has poor mental health, you should arrange a conversation as soon as possible.

Some employees might not feel comfortable talking about their mental health straight away. But it's important to let them know they can talk about their mental health at any time. This could include arranging appropriate follow up conversations if concerns continue.

To help the person feel comfortable talking, you should:

  • talk to them in private
  • be flexible about when and where you talk
  • approach the conversation in a positive and supportive way

It might be difficult for someone to talk about their mental health. So it's important you're calm, patient, supportive and reassuring.

When talking to employees, it's important to remember that factors outside of work could also have an impact on their mental health. For example, if someone close to them has died.

You should know what resources and support you can offer and tell employees about them. For example:

  • an employee assistance programme (EAP) offering staff counselling
  • mental health 'champions'
  • external support networks

If an employee's mental health problem is a disability, or could reasonably be believed to be a disability, you must make reasonable adjustments.

An employee's mental health problem might not be a disability. However, their job could be making it harder to deal with. You should still consider whether you can offer any workplace changes or support to help them. Changes are usually small but they can prevent employees needing to take time off.

If an employee talks to you about their mental health

If an employee approaches you to talk about their mental health, you should thank them for opening up to you. Give them as much time as they need to talk.

During the conversation, you should:

  • listen carefully to what they say
  • try to identify what the cause is, for example by keeping questions open ended
  • think about ways to help, for example if they know about options for support at work or how to request reasonable adjustments
  • reassure them – let them know you'll help them get the support they need

You could agree to take time to think through what you've discussed before making any decisions.

Using the right language

Use appropriate language when talking about mental health. Language can affect how people feel and cause distress.

Be sensitive in the terms you use. Do not use words that are offensive or negative. For example, instead of saying 'suffering from mental health issues', say 'someone who has concerns related to their mental health.'

Being clear about confidentiality

You should reassure the person that you will not share anything they tell you with anyone else without their permission, unless there's a good reason to. If there is, you should be clear about who you'll share it with and why.

If you direct them to external support networks, for example an employee assistance programme (EAP), reassure them that the conversations will be confidential. However, let them know they can still talk to you about it if they want to.

Reasonable adjustments for someone with a disability

By law if the person's poor mental health is considered a disability, you must make reasonable adjustments. This is to help them carry out their job without being at a disadvantage.

Find out more about:

Knowing what support is available for employees

You should not be expected to be an expert in mental health. But, knowing what support is available can help.

Trade unions and other employee representatives can help you promote positive mental health.

Trade union representatives are usually:

  • trained by their union on mental health
  • more willing to share concerns than employees might be
  • aware of issues that could cause mental health problems
  • able to work with you to promote the support and resources available to employees

Getting support for yourself

You might find that you need advice and support for your own mental health. For example, you might be under more pressure than usual to support your team and resolve problems.

It might help to talk things through with someone who can support you, for example:

  • your own manager
  • someone else at work
  • a mental health 'champion' or network at work
  • a counsellor, if you can access one through work

If your organisation offers counselling, it'll usually be through a scheme known as an employee assistance programme (EAP).

If you think an employee is at risk

If you think an employee is at risk, you should encourage them to seek help.

This could include speaking to:

  • a trusted friend or family member
  • their GP
  • occupational health

Your organisation might have an employee assistance programme (EAP) who you can:

  • contact for advice
  • direct your employee to

You can also tell them about external organisations who can help, for example:

The NHS provides a list of helplines and services that can support people with mental health problems:

If someone is in immediate danger, call 999.

Employers have a 'duty of care' to do what's reasonable and practical in situations involving an employee's mental health.

For example, a manager could go with an employee to hospital. Or they could stay in contact with the employee until someone reaches them.

Once the employee is safe

Once the immediate situation has been handled, you should start thinking about how you can support the employee going forward.

The employee might need to take some time off. You should:

  • follow your organisation's absence policy
  • agree with the employee how you'll keep in touch during absence

When an employee is ready to return to work, you should have a process to follow.

Find out more about:

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