Health & Wellness

How to Help Employees Struggling with Mental Health

By Melissa Montoril on May, 4 2021
4 minute read

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Melissa Montoril

Melissa is an employee benefits specialist with over ten years of experience in group insurance.

One of the most valuable investments you can make is to train your managers and frontline staff that mental health challenges may be why employees are struggling at work and the best ways to help them.



Managers and other frontline employees often can tell when something’s off with an employee’s behaviour: They start showing up late for meetings, aren’t dressed as well as usual, or are behind on their tasks for the week. However, even when they know something’s going on, they don’t say anything because they don’t know how to broach the subject. 

In this blog, you’ll learn about some skills and techniques you can use to approach and help employees struggling at work. 


Talk About What You Observe


When approaching an employee about their performance at work, it’s important to only speak about what you can observe. Managers, in an effort to help their employees, can feel an urge to get at the root cause of the problem. But it’s inappropriate to ask personal questions. 

A more helpful and appropriate line of inquiry is to approach the employee and tell them that you’ve noticed uncharacteristic behaviours recently.  Support this assertion with evidence, proof of missed meetings or uncompleted tasks, and tell them that you want to help them get back on track. 

From a leadership perspective, you’re showing that you’re attentive to their behaviour, concerned about their situation, and willing to help them get back on track. Now it’s their decision whether to share something personal with you. 

Perhaps they tell you that they’re struggling with anxiety or depression. From there, you can work with your HR team to develop a plan that balances increasing performance with their mental health. As a leader, you can’t be sure whether that’s the cause of the performance decline, but you can factor it into a performance plan. 

If the employee chooses not to share anything personal, that’s okay too. The goal is to make them feel comfortable opening up, not to pressure them. It’s also important to remember that not all workplace issues are tied to mental health. 

Regardless of whether they share details about their mental health, the objective is to work with the employee to put together an effective performance plan. If they do mention mental health struggles, part of that plan could involve seeking treatment for a mental health issue via counselling or medication.


Educate Managers and HR on Mental Health Policies


Another issue leaders run into is not being aware of what treatment options are available within their organization. A mental health policy is only effective if its contents are communicated to and remembered by those in a position to use it. 

The mental health landscape has changed greatly in the past few years, and it’s possible your current policy isn’t as up-to-date as it needs to be. 

Your policy should include aspects such as flexible working conditions and paid leave for mental health days. You can also update your businesses’ Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to include psychological services such as visiting a counsellor or psychologist. 

Another thing to include in your policy is a list of mental health resources that you can give to employees. Some good resources are: 

Once you’ve created or updated your policies, hold information sessions with your staff about its contents. Depending on the size of your organization, it can be one session, or several sessions with different teams. Encourage your managers to sit down with their teams to go over the content as well. You want everyone in the organization aware of their options. 



Encourage Co-Workers to Help Each Other

Supporting employee mental health doesn’t only have to come from the top down. Co-workers play an important role in supporting each other too. 

They can notice when someone is not behaving normally and encourage them to take a break and go for a walk. 

When someone is struggling with their mental health, they may try and withdraw from those around them. This can be especially easy to do while working remotely, as co-workers aren’t sharing the same physical space. Co-workers can help those that seem to be withdrawing by  including them in virtual events and activities. Even if they decline or aren’t interested, keep the offer open in case they want to join in the future.


Final Thoughts

Knowing how-to broach a conversation about an employee’s performance or behaviour at work requires practice. Staying professional while also ensuring the employee feels that you care about them on a personal level is a delicate balance. However, with the proper skills and policies in place, your managers and other front line staff can feel comfortable having these difficult conversations. 

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