Mental Health In the Workplace: How to Start the Conversation

starting the conversation at work

In an era where the lines between work and personal life often blur, addressing mental health in the workplace has never been more crucial. Yet, for many Australians, it remains a topic shrouded in stigma and hesitation. As the dynamics of the modern workplace evolve, so too must our approach to ensuring the well-being of its inhabitants.

Here, we aim to shed light on the importance of mental health in professional settings and offer some guidance on initiating these vital conversations. By fostering an environment where mental health is openly discussed and prioritized, employers and employees alike can pave the way for a more inclusive, understanding, and productive workspace.

So, how do you start the conversation about mental health in the workplace?

1. Assess the situation

Is the person sitting across from you at work coming in later than usual and always looking harassed? Is the colleague you normally have lunch with suddenly avoiding all social activities? Or maybe you’re a manager and a staff member breaks into an outburst whenever you give her feedback on something. Maybe she even gets aggressive and uses harsh words.

Before you think about performance management or passing any judgment, stop. Consider that the person may be struggling with life, with things beyond his or her control that you don’t see in the office. Take a breath and assess the situation.

2. Reach out

Starting a conversation could be as simple as saying, “Are you okay?” The important thing is to be thoughtful and genuine about it.

  • Mention specific things you’ve noticed, for example, if they’ve been stressed lately or look tired you might say: “I noticed you’ve been quiet lately. Are you okay?”
  • Or simply be casual and ask them, ‘Hey, what’s been happening?’

3. Listen, without expectation

Listen. Remember, you don’t have to have the answers. The idea of starting a conversation is to get the person to start talking about how she or he feels.

  • Be relaxed and concerned when asking questions. You don’t have to have answers or do much talking yourself. Just be open and available so they can talk to you. Ask leading questions such as, ‘How do you feel about that?’ or ‘ How long have you felt that way?’
  • To show you’re listening, repeat what they’ve told you but in your own words. ‘So you’re tired and juggling so many things…’
  • Acknowledge their challenges, and empathise with them. ‘Sounds like a really tough time’ or ‘It must be hard.’
    Don’t play judge. This is their story.
  • If they need time to think and explain, just wait quietly. Don’t interrupt or rush them.

4. Respond, but do not try and fix

Respond encouragingly but avoid the impulse to fix the situation. Responding to something without trying to offer advice is hard work. But that’s what you need to do here.

  • Encourage discussion. Ask about how they have managed the situation in the past.
  • Offer to help: ‘How can I help?’
  • Show support. And remember that just by you being there talking to them, you are showing support.

5. Follow up

Check in with them again in a week or two.

  • Some people may not be ready for help and that’s okay. Give them space and be available if they want to talk at a later time.
  • Demonstrate that you value and respect their privacy.
  • Discuss other support options available to them.
  • If there is any mention of suicidal thoughts, escalate this to a manager or HR in a respectful way, or contact

We take our hats off to people and organisations that are keeping the conversation alive. Providing an open and supportive working environment helps promote a culture where people feel confident enough to check in with their peers, and safe enough to open up.

6. Offer mental health days

Permitting your employees to have mental health days can be incredibly beneficial in the long term. Not only do they support mental well-being in the workplace, they make it clear to your team that their mental health is just as important as their physical health. Not only does this foster a culture of empathy and support, it can result in reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, and heightened morale.

And, of course, mental health days will give your team time to rejuvenate and recalibrate so that they’ll feel refreshed, less stressed, and more resilient as the next challenges come their way.

7. Provide additional support through a workplace mental health program

For even more support, consider providing a workplace mental health program. These programs give management and employees the tools to see potential mental health issues related to stress and other factors and help them look after themselves.  These might include mental health first aid courses and mental health seminars though can always be customised to your organisation’s needs.  For more information, contact Bodycare today.