How HR Should Support Mental Health In The Workplace

Although mental health issues are becoming prevalent talking points for businesses, governments, and educational institutions, there is still inadequate support being offered to individuals who find themselves facing these challenges.

This can happen for several reasons, one being that many organisations still lack sufficient education around the subject, struggling to recognise mental illnesses as being on a par with physical ones. In turn, this creates a lot of stigma around the issue, causing employees to avoid disclosing their symptoms or diagnosis with employers and managers.

When looking at the cost of presenteeism and the decline in productivity as a result of mental health issues, it's not hard to see why the "Keep calm and carry on" bumper sticker is a dismissive and negligent approach to helping employees cope with the very real pressures that trigger mental health instabilities. 

" Employees with depression report their productivity at 70% of their peak performance, and approximately 32 incremental workdays are lost to presenteeism for individuals with major depressive disorders."


- Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

If you'd like to create a healthier, happier and more productive workforce, it's essential to take a proactive approach to promoting physical and mental wellbeing throughout your organisation. The best place to start is to equip your company's leaders with the tools to effectively identify and support team members who may need help with mental health problems.                                                                                                                                                   

Management's role

Managers are the individuals who set the pace for their teams and reinforce company values through their conduct and leadership style. These key players hold a lot of accountability where mental health in the workplace is concerned as they are often the first point of contact for employees struggling with issues of this nature.

It's vital to ensure that your organisation's managers have the know-how to mindfully approach colleagues who are displaying symptoms of mental health disorders and effectively support them through the necessary steps towards recovery and potentially reintroduction to the workplace after a convalescence.

By enabling managers to identify problems early, you may be able to help workers to recover quicker, before the issue snowballs. Also, the actions of mentally ill employees can be misinterpreted by other members of staff, causing unnecessary tensions in the workplace.

If an employee is under-performing due to a mental health illness, this requires sensitivity and support rather than a disciplinary approach – something that many managers could be taught to handle and recognise more effectively.

Understandably, a manager can never fulfill the role of a healthcare professional – and that should not be the expectation at all.

However, as a significant part of their responsibility is to direct and supervise individuals within your organisation, they do require a high level of emotional intelligence and the confidence to tactfully communicate with any team members that need support. 

Managing employees' stress or other mental illnesses

The best place to start when trying to manage stress and mental illness within your organisation is to have a clearly established campaign that promotes wellbeing for your employees.

Make sure that staff have access to information on how to identify triggers for themselves, a clear call to action, and steps to follow should they require assistance from management.

The crucial effort you need to make is to remove any stigma around mental health illness and reassure employees that it's okay to put a hand up and say, "I'm a little overwhelmed, I might need help."

The other more practical things you can do is have a protocol for the kind of support you offer, whether that's flexible working hours, changes to the employees work environment like providing them with a quiet place to work and access to natural light.

You can help to incorporate mindfulness and self-improvement time into the daily schedule so that workers have time to reconfigure and rest as necessary.

Tips to help discuss mental health

Make sure that your managers maintain an open-door policy, enabling colleagues to have more casual conversations about things that concern them, without fearing prejudice or judgement.

If it's up to the manager to make the first move and inquire into the employee's wellbeing, it's essential to keep in mind that there is no secret formula to how you approach sensitive issues. All you can do is act humanely and listen empathically, reassuring the person that the conversation confidential.

Tips for managing time off sick

Your organisation should have a policy for sickness leave – that includes mental health. Employees should be aware of how this procedure works and that there should be no shame or inequality when requesting time off for these reasons.

Once the employee is off, the organisation should keep the lines of communication open and regularly check in with the staff member to track progress and help them plan a comfortable transition back into work once they are well enough to do so. When contacting the person, make sure that it's via their preferred channel – i.e. phone, email, or in-person meetups.

How you handle sickness leave and the level of support you offer will also show colleagues that the organisation has a genuine concern for its employees and that it prioritises wellness. Kind gestures like a ‘get well soon’ card may be sincerely appreciated, and you should also remain respectful by asking the individual how much information they would like to have shared with other colleagues regarding their absence.

Tips for returning to work 

When an employee is ready to make their return back to work, it may be easier to phase the re-entry into the work environment.

Managers should try to meet up with the individual outside of work, in a safe and comfortable space where they can catch up and plan for the best way to reintroduce the employee back into a normal routine. Discuss the possibility of flexible working hours, working from home days, and partnering up with a colleague for mentorship and support.

In a modern economy, driven by technology, many employees no longer face the same physically labour-intensive tasks as our predecessors. This does not diminish the effects that long hours spent in a stationary position can have on the human mind and body.

Also, bear in mind that we’re processing more data, faster than ever, all whilst balancing the pressures of work and domestic life. It's important for organisations to empower managers with the tools to identify mental health issues and enable them to offer genuine support and help to the staff members, without whom, your company's success would not be possible.

Through tracking engagement and facilitating open communication throughout every level of the organisation, you are helping to build a strong business model, based on the principals and values that matter to your employees.

Take your first steps to having a more mentally healthy workplace by downloading our free health and wellbeing survey template - just hit the link below to get yours!

Review your current employee benefits programme - download your free survey template