A Leader’s Guide to Supporting Mental Health Conversations at Work

Honest conversations about mental health play a big role in mental health awareness and support. Here’s how you can empower your employees to share.

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The Calm Team

4 min read

Mental health challenges pose a significant risk to employee welfare and are a major cause of long-term absence from work. Leaders need to be consistent about caring for their employees’ mental well-being and introducing measures to help employees—and they need to be able and willing to provide support when issues emerge.

Employees need to know that their leadership team, HR, and day-to-day managers care about mental health and are open to having conversations about it.

In this post, we’ll talk about what steps you can take, as a leader, to get the ball rolling on normalizing conversations around mental health and helping your employees feel supported and safe on their mental well-being journeys.

6 steps leaders can take to enable conversations about mental health at work


Get buy-in and support from top-level management

Before introducing any mental health initiatives, you’ll need buy-in from top-level management and key stakeholders. That means making sure the management team is onboard with mental health initiatives, that they understand why it’s so important, and are invested in doing what’s necessary to prioritize employees’ mental well-being.

Without it, your efforts will be stunted and won’t get very far off the ground.

You can do this by presenting a solid business case that highlights the importance of protecting the mental health of your people. Be clear about the benefits that come with happy, mentally healthy employees, along with the dangers of ignoring mental well-being concerns.


Introduce mental health awareness at all levels

Know how to spot the signs of potential mental health challenges—and share that knowledge throughout the organization. Line managers in particular need to be able to recognize when employees are struggling based on body language and changes in attitude. And they need to be able to adapt their approach and respond to situations as they crop up.

Having the knowledge widely available at a peer-to-peer level also helps as your employees will have other avenues for seeking help besides their managers (which is especially important for those who might not feel comfortable talking candidly with a direct superior).


Normalize conversations about mental health

To bring about systemic change around mental health in the workplace, you need to normalize conversations about it. Simply launching EAPs isn’t enough. Regular communication and engagement with your employees—alongside supportive measures and respect of work-life balance—can help to clearly demonstrate the company cares about mental health and well-being.

So openly call out supportive resources and normalize being honest about your mental well-being. Encourage people to share their lived experiences. The key is to make it normal to talk about mental health—and you’ll need to lead from the front by being frank about your own mental health journey and the challenges you’ve faced.

And, when your employees eventually start sharing in return, be sure to empathize and listen without making assumptions about their situation or centering yourself in the conversation.


Check in regularly

Make regular check-ins a standard practice for the entire leadership and management team. Sometimes that’s as simple as asking employees how they are, in private one-on-one conversations, and making it clear you really do care about their answers. Ask how work is going. Ask what support they need, what would be most helpful for them right now. And, when they reply, be sure to really listen and enact changes if feasible.

You can also try introducing anonymous pulse surveys to get a sense of employees welfare as a whole across the organization. Include questions about factors that feed into mental health, like:

  • Do employees feel supported?
  • Do they know who they can talk to?
  • Do they feel comfortable talking to their line manager or supervisors?
  • Do they feel emotionally drained at work?
  • Do they feel like their workload is unusually heavy?

This can help you get a broader view of how people are feeling. Doing this also helps you track shifts in sentiment over time in relation to new policy introductions, periods with heavier or lighter workloads, and so on.


Make it easy for people to reach out

Mental health challenges don’t run on a schedule. Even with regular check-ins booked, employees may need to talk to someone outside of planned meetings—and being able to access that support can sometimes mean the difference between catching a problem early and having it spiral into something worse.

Create clear guidelines about how employees can access support. Have multiple avenues for reaching out or raising a hand. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health and well-being—what works well for one person (or you) may go against the grain for someone else. That’s why it’s important to have a number of different resources and options available, for the spectrum of different personalities and comfort levels on the team.


Be aware of your position as a leader and role model

As a leader, your employees look to you to gauge how to act. If the leadership and HR team are speaking loudly about mental health, but aren’t taking the necessary steps to address it, then the team will probably end up ignoring it, too.

Try to be as honest as possible about your experiences with mental well-being challenges. Practice kindness, gratitude, and mindfulness in everything you do at work and take a genuine interest in your team.

And be sure to establish clear expectations about work-life balance and workload boundaries. Make it explicitly clear that nobody should be working themselves into a bad mental or physical health situation—and that, if they are, there are people to talk to who can help them restructure their time and find a solution.

Building solid foundations is key to having honest, open conversations and better mental health. You can help by providing your employees with handy tools like Calm, which they can use to develop their resilience, learn essential mindfulness practices, and create better work and life habits. Try it today: book a demo to learn more about Calm.

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