10 things to do if an employee is struggling with mental health

During Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re offering our top tips, including what to do if an employee is struggling with mental health. We have heard a great deal about mental ill health in the last few months, whether this has been hearing how people have struggled during the pandemic or struggled as members of the Royal Family. What is important to remember is that it affects us all. According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and more than 264 million people (of all ages) suffer from depression globally.

We know from the Health and Safety Executive (in their report into workplace mental health for 2019/20), that 828,000 workers suffered from work related stress, depression, or anxiety and that this equated to 17.9 million lost working days. Furthermore, of all work-related ill health, 51% could be attributed to depression or anxiety.

Of course, there is not just a business need as to why we need to manage mental health, but there is a moral duty, as it is simply the right thing to do.

So, what happens if you have a member of staff who comes to you saying they are struggling with their mental health?

This can be a very difficult situation to be in; it may be that you just do not know how to handle the situation, or that you may make the situation worse by asking them about it; or you may worry about saying the wrong thing or not know which words to use. These feelings can be normal but must not and should not mean you do nothing.  What is important, is that as a line manager, you listen and take appropriate action that is within your control from a workplace perspective.

Here are our 10 pointers in how to handle this situation:

  1.  First, do not ignore and deal with their situation promptly. The employee has come to you as a cry for help and seek support. To do nothing means they are not able to get the right and necessary support at work. By working with them, you can hopefully help maintain their attendance at work and avoid any sickness absence; although there are some cases, where clearly a period of sickness absence may be in their best interest.
  2. If you are not anywhere quiet, find a quiet area to speak to them, where they can talk more openly to you in confidence. If you are both working remotely, then arrange to have a virtual chat, making sure you cannot be distracted, and you can be fully attentive.
  3. It is important to let them do most of the talking initially; quite often letting them express how they are feeling, without interruption, can help enormously in that immediate moment where they may be feeling overwhelmed. There will be a point in the conversation where you can look to propose workable options for support.
  4. What is vital, is to recognise that you are not a medical expert, and so there will be a line in which you can provide support up to. You will most likely know when you are at that line, from the way the conversation is progressing.
  5. Where you feel you are at that line, where you are unable to provide advice they need, then signpost and encourage your employee to access professional support; whether this is their own GP, your own Occupational Health provider, or an Employee Assistance Programme you may have in place.
  6. Depending on how the discussion has progressed; then you can explore with them what help they need from you and the workplace. This could be to work out how you can alleviate any immediate pressure or stress from work on a short-term basis, or you may be able to support a temporary change to how they operate their hours (either the number of hours or how they work their hours).
  7. Where poor mental health comes from a work relationship, then it is critical to ensure the employee is aware of their rights for seeking resolution to any issues. Depending upon the severity and nature of the issue; it may be that directing them to the informal grievance process is appropriate. However, in more serious allegations, for example, bullying and harassment, then the employee should almost certainly be directed to the formal grievance process. In exceptional circumstances, it may be reasonable for the company to proceed with their own investigations, based on the conversation that has been had with the employee and not have to wait a formal written grievance. This would be more exceptional, and perhaps whereby the allegations being made are of a very serious nature. We would always encourage HR advice is sought when you are dealing with very serious allegations to ensure you take the most appropriate approach in the circumstances as each case is unique and has its own set of circumstances.
  8. One important and vital activity in supporting employees with poor mental health is to seek medical support from either Occupational Health or their own GP. You will require their consent to proceed with obtaining a medical report, but a report can be extremely helpful in understanding more about their medical condition, and where you can seek their recommendations on any temporary or permanent adjustments. You can also seek their medical opinion on whether their ill health is likely to be covered by the Equality Act (and therefore, is it deemed a disability), although ultimately, this would rest with a tribunal.
  9. If they remain in work, with appropriate support mechanisms in place, then be sure to hold regular 121s to check in with them on a regular basis. This is important as you can review the measures you have put in place up to now in the workplace and consider if any further support may be required. Work with them also on creating either a stress risk assessment, or a wellness action plan. The latter is a tool to help manage their mental health. It is a personalised tool that can help identify what keeps the person well at work, what causes the employee to become unwell and how to address it at work should they experience any episode at work. It also opens a dialogue between employee and manager to better understand their needs and experiences and ultimately support their mental health.
  10. If they should require a period of sickness absence, then be sure to balance the need of allowing the time off to get better with the need for maintaining contact. In these types of cases, and in general, it is often common for an employee to be signed off for at least two weeks, maybe one month when they initially go off. You should at least have a discussion with the employee at the outset of their absence, so you agree the frequency and method of keeping in touch. If they have a two-week fit note, then it may be for example, you have your subsequent catch up with them a few days prior to it ending, just so you can consider planning for their return, should they be well enough at that point.

Benefits of an EAP

An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) gives employees the support that they need to help them manage their health and wellbeing issues effectively, whatever the cause of their discontent. HR Solutions offers several different options for EAP schemes which can be tailored to suit your business requirements. If an employee is struggling with mental health, independent, impartial advice may help them to resolve their difficulties more quickly, and minimise the impact on your business.

Further Specialist Advice

Our team of HR Consultants is on hand to help you to navigate any employee issues your business may face. To find out more call us on 0844 324 5840, or Contact Us more information. offers free resources and advice to help take care of your staff’s mental wellbeing and reduce mental health related sickness in the workplace.




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Got questions? Looking for advice?


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