5 ways managers can discuss mental health at work without exceeding their authority

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The company invested heavily in supporting the mental health of employees during the pandemic, but stress and anxiety remained high.

Deborah Grayson Riegel, a writer, speaker and management expert who has taught at the Wharton School of Business and Columbia Business School, said that one of the keys to addressing job burnout may be to teach managers how to interact with employees. Talk about mental health issues.

However, Rigel told CNBC Make It that managers often worry that cultivating mental health at work may cross personal boundaries.

When she asked the manager about their hesitation, “They would say: there is a sense of shame, or I don’t want to snoop, or I don’t want to delve into what they are uncomfortable talking about. So, what if they bring up something that I’m not prepared to deal with ?

Therefore, as a way to help people find the right language for difficult conversations, here are five tips that allow managers to guide discussions about mental health without feeling that they are out of bounds.

1. Acknowledge that the discussion can be awkward

Everyone has different levels of comfort and experience when discussing their own mental health.

Managers can break the deadlock by admitting that this topic can be tricky. Riegel recommends starting the conversation in this way: “I want to talk to you about something that may feel a little embarrassing, but I will accept embarrassment because I care about you.”

Consider using a more neutral-feeling scale to construct conversations. For example: in the range of 1 to 10, 1 means you are completely exhausted, and 10 means you are ready to double your workload. What is your energy level today? Another frame of reference: how is your weather pattern today? Is it stormy, sunny or cloudy with a hint of sunshine?

You can also set the tone by sharing your answers first, which can create a sense of trust and psychological security. Talking about your struggles may never make people feel completely relaxed, but by modeling your own, your employees can share their experiences more easily.

2. Don’t be picky about anyone

Let your report know in advance that you plan to check their performance with them and assure them that you are having this conversation with everyone on the team, Riegel said. This way they will not feel isolated due to performance issues, and they will be better aware that this is a larger team effort.

Make it clear that these check-ins are not for checking to-dos and status updates, but for your willingness to understand what causes them to feel anxious, stressful, and other challenges at work or even at home.

Riegel suggests that you can also set aside time in your regular one-on-one sessions and directly ask people how they perform beyond work tasks. At the beginning: “Let’s put work aside. How are you outside of work?”

3. Let them know that they don’t have to share

It takes some practice to discuss mental health at work. Riegel recommends regular checkups: “We tend to only contact once because we don’t want to cross the line and it feels embarrassing, but please don’t contact it only once. My feelings today may be different from what I felt yesterday.”

That being said, let your employees know that they don’t have to disclose anything that makes them uncomfortable.

Riegel suggested this approach: “I invite you to share because I care about you. You definitely don’t have to answer. I don’t want to snoop. But please know that I’m happy to talk about anything you want to talk about.”

She added that it is essential to conduct these dialogues through the lens of diversity, fairness, inclusiveness, and belonging. “There are significant cultural differences in people’s perceptions of seeking help,” Rigel said, especially those from disadvantaged groups or employees who have no sense of psychological security in the workplace.

4. Know when to stop mentioning

If you feel that your employees don’t want to discuss something with you at all, for example if they keep responding that everything is fine or change the topic, then know when to stop mentioning this topic.

You can also say frankly, Riegel said, and then let them speak: “I want you to know that I care about you and you can bring me anything, whether it’s work-related or work-related, but I don’t want to Aggressive. Do you want me to stop asking?”

5. Confirm that you are not the best resource

Remember: even if your employees did not explain to you the reasons for their stress, it does not mean that they do not have work support at home or elsewhere.

To check in, you can say something like: “You seem to feel a little stressed these days. In work or life, who can talk about these things?”

As Riegel said, “Managers need to remember that it’s important to have employees talk to, but it’s not necessarily you. If the answer is not you, it’s better to be happy that they have the resources instead of being personal.”

Likewise, just because you are in a leadership position does not mean that you should have all the solutions. However, this does mean that you must know where to find answers and guide your employees in the right direction, Riegel said.

To do this, find out what resources are available for your company, such as an employee resource group or a health benefit portal for new pandemic-related programs. If you know of the broader resources in the community that can help, you can also pass on these contacts.


The company prioritizes mental health during Covid, so why are we still so exhausted?

“I’m putting my whole life on hold”: How workers cope with Covid burnout

4.8 million working parents have “preventable” burnout-here are 5 things to relieve stress

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