Written by Sam Dow

4th February 2021

Time to Talk Day, which falls on Thursday February 4th this year, is a campaign run by charity Time to Change to get people to talk to one another about their mental health. This could be in any setting – at home, with friends or in the workplace.

This is more relevant than ever in 2021 – it is thought that 3 in 5 people across the UK have experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, and Covid restrictions, homeschooling and work-life balance are just some of the challenges that may have contributed to this.

Small things can make a big difference to mental health, and just starting a conversation can be a powerful way to challenge mental health stigma and get people thinking about how themselves and others are feeling.

At work, employers and managers have a responsibility to support their teams’ health and wellbeing, but for many it’s hard to know where to start. Here are some of the ways managers can open the conversation around mental health:

Remind people it’s OK not to be OK

If the last year has taught us anything, it is that mental health issues can affect anyone. Remind employees this is normal – it is crucial that managers stay as empathic as possible.

Having a manager to confide in is also important, not only to provide a listening ear, but also to share how the company can help the individual with their mental health and guide them to the right sources of support.

Keep checking in

While it may be easy to assume that employees are used to dealing with the challenges of working from home and know the resources available to them if they are struggling, this latest period of lockdown has made it more necessary than ever to check in.

Employees who have worked remotely for a long time can feel burned out or disconnected, or experience loneliness.

Managers need to make the effort to check in with their teams. This is not a tick-box exercise and should be something you actively do so it happens with everyone. Just asking ‘how are you?’ and taking time to listen properly to the response, can make an enormous difference.

We also know that people often say they are fine when they’re not. So, asking twice is an important way of starting conversations about mental health and letting people know that you really are interested.

Take mental health days

One way of opening up conversations around mental health is to make it known that mental health is treated the same way as physical health. Someone struggling with their mental health could feel anxious about taking a sick day. They may feel like it’s not serious enough to warrant a day off work.

Giving employees the option to take a ‘mental health day’ with no questions asked, will reassure staff that taking some necessary time off won’t result in anger from their colleagues or anyone losing their job.

Ensure line managers are confident discussing mental health

Before you can encourage the conversation, managers need training and clear guidelines so they’re well equipped to support staff experiencing a mental health problem. The way you manage and support staff who experiencing a mental health problem can be key in shaping how they deal with it. Your business should:

  • Provide training on mental health and stress management – including how to spot the signs and how to have supportive conversations with staff
  • Have clear guidelines for managers on managing mental health issues
  • Encourage and support positive manager behaviours

Lead by example

You know the people in your team and you may notice changes in them. However, it’s important to remember everyone’s experience of a mental health problem is different and there may be no outward sign – this is why it’s so important to create an environment where people can be open.

Managers should be confident to set an example and be open about their mental health and any struggles they’ve experienced. This could be what your other team members need to hear to speak openly about their own experiences.

Ask simple, open and non-judgmental questions and let people explain in their own words, how their mental health impacts on their work and what support they need.

Organise a team activity

Time to Talk Day is an ideal opportunity to organise something fun and open up mental health conversations. This could include a group mindfulness session or a presentation by mental health first aiders/champions.

Mental health champions are people who will take a proactive role in supporting the mental health of your workforce. They could take the lead in organising events and activities, something like a ‘mental health hour’ slotted into the working week is a great way to reassure staff that there is someone there for them.

Avoid pressuring staff

Recently many employers have stepped up their game in terms of promoting mental health and  wellbeing. However, this doesn’t always mean that every employee is going to feel like they can come forward and talk about it.

If people feel forced into something, it can cause more stress and result in the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. So, the ways you can keep this from happening are letting everyone know your mental health initiatives are optional and give them the opportunity to opt out if they don’t feel comfortable.

If you find the latter is the case, make sure employees are aware of the support available to them outside of your organisation from organisations such as Mind or Time to Change.

We are running a free 2hour interactive wellbeing workshop on February 24th at 10am to improve mental health awareness, help managers start conversations around mental health and advice on good workplace practices to support wellbeing.

For more information or to book your place see www.realityhr.co.uk/coronavirus.