Talking about mental health at work

Starting a conversation about someone's wellbeing can be difficult. Below are some pointers about how you might approach a colleague at work if you're worried about them. These tips apply if you are working from home too.

If we noticed a colleague had a bad cough or had started to limp we would ask them how they’re doing and show our support. But sometimes we can be nervous about asking someone how they are doing mentally if we’re concerned about them. We may worry that we’ll make the situation worse or that we’re overstepping professional boundaries. Especially if someone has already said they are “fine”. We may need to make extra effort to look out for signs while many of us are still working from home.

There are no perfect ways to start a conversation about someone’s wellbeing. Being non-judgemental, kind and empathetic is key. Below are some pointers about how you might approach a colleague, someone you work with or manage if you’re worried about them.

Remember that no one expects you to be an expert, but that if you can listen and then help signpost someone to extra support or information, you can make a big difference.

Create the right conditions

Give some thought to how, when and where you might broach the conversation:

  • Choose a place and time where you can speak privately – perhaps suggest a walk outside, or suggest you go grab a coffee. Or you could suggest a quiet meeting room.
  • Choose the right time – a break, lunchtime or perhaps a private meeting where you won’t be interrupted.
  • Create the right conditions for active listening – it may be better to sit or be beside them. Give affirmative physical and/or verbal nods.
  • If you’re working from home be aware you may need to demonstrate active listening more verbally on a phone/video call.

Ask open questions

  • Ask them “How are you today?” – Sometimes making it about the present can prevent the ubiquitous “I’m fine” response.
  • “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed yourself lately, tell me how you’re feeling”
  • How do you look after yourself?
  • What support do you have in place? Are there people you can talk to?
  • Reassure them it’s ok to talk.
  • “I want you to know that I’m here to listen and help if you need me to.”

See Time to Change’s mental health conversation starter for general tips on everyday ways to ask ‘how are you?’