Difficult Conversations at work: Addressing Mental Health

An interesting article by Clare Waller of Hewitsons in HR Review on the reticence shown by employees to have difficult conversations with line managers about mental health issues. The article draws upon a survey for the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health which showed that 80% of workers would not discuss their mental health issues with their line manager for fear of being stigmatised. 

Although the situation is definitely improving, there is still a considerable amount of work to be done in the area of mental health in the workplace. The mental health charity Mind now has a dedicated area on its website devoted to addressing the issue of workplace mental health and it provides both information and useful resources that can help to boost an organisation’s ability to recognise and address workplace mental health issues.

The survey by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health lends further support to the suggestion that most managers feel that they receive insufficient training in two key areas:

    1. Identifying potential mental health issues in the workforce;
    2. Having difficult conversations with workers when a potential or actual mental health issue has been identified or reported.


If more managers received specific training in both of these areas, there would be much less risk that workers would fear being stigmatised and more chance that mental health issues could be addressed better and quicker. It is undoubtedly true that better outcomes can be achieved if such issues are addressed as early as possible. An atmosphere needs to be created in the workplace where workers are not afraid to raise their own mental health issues and managers are equipped with the skills to recognise and address the issues when they arise.

Of course, there are lots of other types of difficult conversations that need to take place at work about all sorts of matters other than mental health. Providing managers with the skills necessary to have these difficult conversations in the workplace will bring a host of additional benefits over and above improved morale: improved staff retention, lower recruitment costs, improved productivity and ultimately improved profitability, to name but a few.


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