03 Apr 2024

Open Dialogue: Encouraging Employees to Talk About Mental Health


“A problem shared is a problem half solved” is a quote used by many. But how often do you hear your colleagues discussing their problems over lunch, or see someone confidently requesting a mental health day off? It’s safe to say, not very often. A 2019 study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 64% of employees are worried that disclosing a mental health condition could negatively impact their career. This study highlights the significant fear that exists around opening up about mental health in the workplace, and underscores the importance of creating a safe and supportive environment.

The reality is that, despite the growing awareness of mental health issues, many employees still struggle to open up about their struggles at work. It’s like a secret society where everyone knows it exists, but few dare whisper the password. But what if we could change that? At Proten International, we believe in fostering a workplace where employees can freely discuss mental health. It should be as common as discussing the weekend’s game. The key to this is fostering an open dialogue about mental health. It’s not just about creating a feel-good environment; it’s a strategic move that can benefit your entire company.

So, how do we break down the barriers and encourage employees to talk about mental health? Here are some key strategies:

Lead by Example

Silence breeds shame, and that’s exactly what happens when struggles become workplace secrets. But imagine the change if managers, the very people employees often feel pressure to impress, were to lead by example. By openly discussing their own experiences with mental health challenges, even briefly, they send a powerful message: “It’s okay to not be okay.” This vulnerability can normalize the conversation and dismantle the stigma. After all, according to a 2017 workplace stress survey by the American Psychological Association, a whopping 80% of workers experience work-related stress. That’s a significant portion of your workforce likely wrestling with similar anxieties, and seeing a leader they respect acknowledge their own struggles can be incredibly validating.

Normalize Mental Health Conversations

Ditch the hushed tones and furtive glances – it’s time to break the silence surrounding mental health in the office. Instead of whispered conversations behind closed doors, let’s bring mental health out in the open. Companies can organize lively workshops and therapy sessions for employees. In these sessions, mental health professionals shed light on common struggles and the resources available to navigate them.

But knowledge alone isn’t enough. To truly chip away at the stigma, we need open discussions and Q&A sessions. Picture a safe space where employees feel comfortable raising questions and sharing their experiences. This will foster a sense of understanding and community. And let’s not forget the power of personal stories. Consider inviting guest speakers who have bravely faced mental health challenges themselves. Their vulnerability and courage can be incredibly inspiring, reminding everyone in the room that they’re not alone. By bringing mental health out into the open, fostering dialogue, and celebrating stories of resilience, we can create a workplace where open communication thrives and employees feel empowered to prioritize their well-being.

Confidentiality is Paramount

Fostering open dialogue about mental health goes beyond simply saying, “It’s okay to not be okay.” The key lies in creating a safe space where employees feel comfortable enough to voice their struggles. This requires a clear and consistent message from the company about confidentiality.

Employees need to know, without a doubt, that seeking help won’t jeopardize their job security or lead to whispers elsewhere. There are several ways to achieve this. Company handbooks should explicitly outline confidentiality policies regarding mental health concerns. Posters displayed prominently in common areas can serve as constant reminders that resources are available and conversations are safe. Even during the onboarding process, weaving confidentiality assurances into the company’s values and benefits can plant the seeds of trust from day one. By taking these steps, we can build a culture where vulnerability isn’t a weakness, but a sign of strength and a first step towards a healthier, happier you.

Provide Resources, Not Just Words

Talking about it isn’t enough. We need to equip employees with the tools they need to get help. Here’s where providing a comprehensive resource network becomes crucial. Start by offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with confidential counseling services, a vital first step for those seeking guidance. Partnering with local mental health organizations can unlock additional benefits, such as discounted therapy sessions or even on-site support groups, fostering a sense of community and shared experience. Don’t forget the power of digital resources – share information about mental health hotlines, online resources, and mental health apps that employees can access discreetly on their own terms. By creating a multi-pronged approach, we ensure there’s a support system readily available for anyone who needs it.

Train Managers

Frontline managers are often the first to notice signs of employee struggle, but equipping them with the right tools can turn them into allies, not just supervisors. Training programs can empower managers with the skills they need to have supportive conversations about mental health. This could include active listening techniques to create a safe space for employees to open up, recognizing the signs of stress and burnout before they escalate, and most importantly, providing clear information about available resources. Imagine managers who can confidently navigate these conversations, connect employees with the support they need, and foster a culture of well-being within their teams.

Final Thoughts…

Fred Rogers, TV host and author, said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that’s mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”

By creating a culture of open dialogue, we can empower employees to prioritize their mental well-being. We can help them become less overwhelmed, and able to face their challenges head on. A happier, healthier workforce leads to increased productivity, improved morale, and a lower chance of burnout. Imagine a workplace where employees feel comfortable taking a mental health day without judgment, or where colleagues can check in on each other without fear of prying. This isn’t a utopian dream; it’s a reality within reach. Let’s break the silence and make mental health a normal part of the conversation at work. After all, a healthy workforce is a successful workforce.