Like a Boss: I’m concerned about the mental health of a team member. What should I do?

In last week’s blog, we looked at a four-step process for designing and implementing your own workplace wellness program. As highlighted previously, a mentally-healthy workplace subscribes to three beliefs; (1) it is our responsibility as leaders to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health problems, (2) we should promote a positive working environment and (3) we can proactively support employees with mental health conditions (Beyond Blue, 2014). So, what can leaders specifically do to support the mental health of individual employees?

There are several steps that can be taken to support the mental health of your team members. Contrary to myth, you do not need to be a trained counsellor to talk to your team members about their mental health. Those who do it well have already established a trusting relationship with team members, are clear on the workplace’s responsibilities, want to help and have resources to offer the team member.

When to start the conversation

You should approach a team member if:

  • Their behaviour has changed e.g. usually bubbly, but have been withdrawn for the last few weeks
  • Their work standards or relationships are being compromised
  • They have been expressing feelings and thoughts that sound like depression or anxiety

What do I say?

There are several ways you can approach a team member who may be struggling. The trick is not to over-think the ‘what could it be/how may they react to my words’. It is about empathy, ‘noticing’ and asking questions. Mental Health First Aid Australia calls this the ‘Approach, Assess, Assist’ phase. This allows your team member to see that you care and are not assuming. Find an appropriate time to approach them and ensure you have a quiet, private place.

Helpful questions to start the conversation:

  • How have you been lately?
  • I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself at the moment. What’s been going on for you?
  • I’ve noticed in the last few weeks you have been withdrawn and quiet. That’s not like you. Can we talk about that?

Listen carefully and when appropriate, offer support. Helpful communication includes:

  • Speaking the least; be a good listener and use empathy statements e.g. ‘I can appreciate this has been hard for you’.
  • Engaging them to talk about how they are feeling e.g. ‘How else has this been effecting you?’
  • Asking if they need or want help. Don’t assume they haven’t tried anything
  • Discussing options – what have they tried already or what has previously worked?
  • Not taking over e.g. “Here’s what I think you should do”
  • Encouraging them to seek professional help
  • Offering them some time off to see a doctor or a psychologist

Keep the lines of communication open with the team member. If they wish to seek support on their own, get permission to check in on them on a regular basis. The more trust and openness there is, the more likely the team member is will keep you informed.

Need help?

Mindpod offer Mental Health First Aid programs and leadership coaching to help you navigate these important conversations. Contact us at support@mindpod.com.au to talk about how we can help.  

References

Beyond Blue, 2014 ‘Creating a mentally healthy workplace: a guide for business leaders and managers’. Retrieved from https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1256-booklet---creating-a-mentally-healthy-workplace.pdf?sfvrsn=4

Mental Health First Aid Australia, 2016 ‘How to Help a Friend, Family Member or Co-worker with a Mental Illness or Crisis’. Retrieved from https://mhfa.com.au/resources/help-a-friend-family-member-or-co-worker-with-mental-health-illness-or-crisis