Open Conversations: Navigating Mental Health Discussions at Work

Open Conversations: Navigating Mental Health Discussions at Work

In this article, we delve into the critical topic of mental health in the workplace, with fifteen expert insights from founders, CEOs, and managing directors. From incorporating mindfulness principles to implementing a “Wellness Ambassador” program, these leaders share their successful approaches to initiating and navigating these essential discussions.

  • Incorporate Mindfulness Principles
  • Organize “Safe Space Sessions”
  • Examine the Manager’s Role
  • Lead with Vulnerability and Openness
  • Initiate Mental Health Conversations
  • Host Psychologist-Led Seminars
  • Create an Open, Supportive Environment
  • Facilitate Mental Health through Creative Workshops
  • Express Empathy
  • Show Support
  • Utilize the “5 Whys” Method
  • Take Mental Health Promotion Measures
  • Schedule Regular Mental Health Check-Ins
  • Invest in an Employee Assistance Program
  • Implement a “Wellness Ambassador” Program

Incorporate Mindfulness Principles

With initiating conversations about mental health in the workplace, I have found success through the principles of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present and aware of our emotions and those of others.

A casual “Mindful Friday” session is often hosted, where the team discusses the highs and lows of the week, without any fear of judgment. This helps in developing emotional intelligence and also creates a safe, open, and empathetic space for discussing any mental or well-being issues as soon as they arise.

For example, during one session, a team member shared their struggle with anxiety, which led to a broader conversation about it, how to recognize it, and techniques to deal with it effectively. By using mindfulness principles in the discussion, it feels less like a therapy session and more like a chat among friends, making it easier for everyone to open up.

Bayu PrihanditoBayu Prihandito
Psychology Expert, Life Coach, Founder, Life Architekture

Organize “Safe Space Sessions”

Addressing mental health in the workplace can be quite delicate, but it’s incredibly important. One approach that has proven effective is organizing what I call “Safe Space Sessions.” These are relaxed meetings specifically focused on discussing well-being and mental health. Typically, we start with a guest speaker or an article related to the topic. Then, we encourage open dialogue among colleagues.

What makes these sessions special is that they happen regularly and in confidence. This combination helps build trust and lets everyone know that it’s perfectly fine to share their thoughts or simply listen. The outcome is a team that feels more supported and a work environment that becomes more empathetic.

If you’re looking to initiate conversations around health at your workplace, giving “Safe Space Sessions” a try is highly recommended. It’s an impactful way to promote understanding and foster a culture that values well-being.

Jacob MaslowJacob Maslow
Owner, Rest Equation

Examine the Manager’s Role

Sparking conversations about mental health in the workplace can be challenging, even as more people openly talk about their lived experiences with mental health conditions. If you’re a manager, modeling how to talk about your own experience with mental health is an effective strategy to initiate conversations about mental health.

Importantly, please don’t feel pressured to discuss your mental health at work if you’re not ready. That said, it can be inspiring for employees to see their boss initiate and navigate conversations about their own mental health, particularly if they are struggling.

If you’re not sure where to start, simply be honest in response to, “How are you doing?” Practice modeling what it looks like to openly share your feelings. That said, you, as a manager, are responsible for creating psychological safety for employees to share their feelings and receive the support and resources they need to thrive in the workplace.

Dr. Kyle ElliottDr. Kyle Elliott
Founder and Tech Career Coach,

Lead with Vulnerability and Openness

One approach that I’ve found particularly effective is leading with vulnerability and openness as a leader. During our monthly all-hands meetings, I make it a point to share not just our successes and objectives, but also the challenges we face as an organization. In that context, I’ve found it natural to bring up the topic of mental well-being, setting the tone for a culture that values emotional intelligence along with professional competence.

For example, I might share how the stress of hitting quarterly targets affects me personally and the coping strategies I’ve found helpful. I’ve noticed that this openness often acts as a catalyst for other team members to feel safe discussing their own experiences and challenges. I firmly believe that the culture of a company starts at the top, and if the leadership shows that they value mental health, it becomes an ingrained part of the organizational culture.

Gordana SretenovicGordana Sretenovic
Co-Founder, Workello ATS

Initiate Mental Health Conversations

As the CEO of our startup, I’ve effectively initiated conversations about mental health in the workplace by taking the lead. I understand that employees may hesitate to open up due to concerns about job security.

To break this barrier, I openly share my personal experiences, highlighting the stigma I faced in my youth and times when I could have benefited from support but didn’t seek it. I emphasize how my perspective has evolved, stressing the importance of mental well-being alongside physical health.

By sharing this journey, I encourage our team to feel comfortable speaking up and seeking help, thus creating a more supportive workplace culture.

Eran MizrahiEran Mizrahi
CEO and Founder, Ingredient Brothers

Host Psychologist-Led Seminars

A successful approach we’ve undertaken to initiate conversations about mental health in the workplace involved hosting seminars with psychologists. These sessions helped shed light on common mental health issues, emphasizing their normalcy and offering strategies for managing them effectively. Moreover, I personally addressed our employees, highlighting our commitment to their well-being.

During these seminars, professionals shared insights on coping with mental health challenges, fostering an environment of understanding and support. We reinforced our open-door policy, ensuring employees felt comfortable discussing their concerns with us directly.

This approach not only normalizes mental health conversations but also demonstrates our genuine commitment to their holistic well-being. By providing resources, fostering dialogue, and maintaining a compassionate workplace culture, we’ve been able to make valuable strides in promoting mental health awareness and support among our employees.

Luciano ColosLuciano Colos
Founder and CEO, PitchGrade

Create an Open, Supportive Environment

Creating an open and supportive environment is a good way to start and continue talks about mental health at work. Setting a good example by being open about dealing with stress and self-care encourages other team members to do the same. Regular check-ins are held where the discussion is not just about work, but also about how everyone is doing.

Help is made easy to find by offering things like employee-assistance programs and workshops on mental health. By making these conversations more common, reducing stigma, and making it clear that mental health is just as important as physical health, a workplace is created where team members feel safe asking for help and helping each other through tough times.

Rene DelgadoRene Delgado
Founder and CEO, The Indoor Golf Shop

Facilitate Mental Health through Creative Workshops

We have organized creative workshops at the workplace to facilitate conversations about mental health. These workshops are held in places where employees can use art, writing, or other creative forms to express their mental health experiences. This method indirectly offers a safe space for discussing difficult emotions that might be hard to convey verbally.

James McNallyJames McNally
Managing Director, SDVH [Self Drive Vehicle Hire]

Express Empathy

Initiating and navigating conversations about mental health in the workplace requires a thoughtful and empathetic approach. A successful approach I use is to choose the right time to speak and to express empathy and understanding while speaking.

Before initiating any conversation, educate yourself about mental health issues, common symptoms, and available resources within your organization. This will help you speak knowledgeably and empathetically. Pick an appropriate time and private place for the conversation. Ensure that both you and the person you’re speaking to have the necessary privacy and time to talk without interruptions.

Start the conversation by expressing your concern and understanding. For example, you might say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been going through a tough time recently, and I want you to know that I’m here to support you.” Allow the person to express their feelings and thoughts without interruption. Be an active listener, which means giving your full attention to them.

Joe LiJoe Li
Managing Director, CheckYa

Show Support

When initiating and navigating conversations about mental health in the workplace, it is important to show support. This may be in the form of offering an empathetic ear or simply listening without judgment.

Showing that you are open to discussing mental health issues can help create a safe space for those who feel comfortable enough to share their experiences. It is also helpful to offer support and resources for those who are struggling. This could be as simple as providing a list of mental health resources, like hotlines, therapists, or support groups that may be available in the local area.

Sarah MomsenSarah Momsen
Member and CTO, Eazy House Sale

Utilize the “5 Whys” Method

Discussing mental health in the workplace is crucial, yet it can be tricky. To foster genuine conversations, the “5 Whys” method is used. This strategy is simple yet effective: when addressing a concern or behavior, “why” is asked five times, delving deeper into the underlying causes with each query.

For instance, if an employee seems disengaged, the first “why” might reveal workload stress. The next might uncover challenges in their team dynamics, and so on. By the fifth “why,” the heart of the matter, which might be a personal mental health struggle, is often reached.

This method does more than just pinpoint issues; it establishes trust. Employees recognize that their well-being is a priority, not just their output. Remember, though, that the key is genuine concern. Asking “why” isn’t about placing blame but understanding and supporting. With this approach, a workplace where mental health is not just a buzzword, but a genuine area of care and support can be created.

Rafael Sarim ÖzdemirRafael Sarim Özdemir
Founder and CEO, Zendog Labs

Take Mental Health Promotion Measures

In my opinion, implement specific measures focused on promoting mental health in the workplace. These could include mental health awareness workshops, meditation classes, or flexible work hours to accommodate personal well-being demands.

Begin by surveying employees to determine their preferences and needs regarding mental health programs. Once launched, conduct regular check-ins with employees to get feedback and assess the impact of these activities. Make changes depending on their comments to ensure that the programs are effective and relevant.

Cindi KellerCindi Keller
Communications Coordinator, The Criminal Defense Firm

Schedule Regular Mental Health Check-Ins

I believe it’s important to create a workplace where regular mental health checks are routine. These can be one-on-one interactions between managers and team members, or group check-ins during team meetings.

Schedule regular, confidential check-ins with team members to discuss their workload, stress levels, and overall well-being. Create a structured framework for these dialogues, including questions about mental health and stress management. Encourage employees to express their issues and attentively listen to their responses. Help them out by providing them with resources or making adjustments to their tasks if they need it.

Schedule time for open talks regarding mental health during team meetings, and encourage employees to share their own experiences and strategies for managing stress. This normalizes the discourse and emphasizes the importance of mental health in the workplace.

Tiffany HaflerTiffany Hafler
Marketing Manager, FORTIS Medical Billing

Invest in an Employee Assistance Program

We find that the first step to ensuring that you can make people comfortable with talking about their mental health struggles is to invest in an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) and explain the benefits of it to your employees. This demonstrates that you think mental health is important and worth investing in as a company.

Straight away, this shows that mental health is a topic that can be discussed in public, recognized by the business. Importantly, the EAP can also offer confidential one-on-one counseling consultations that can provide important immediate support before longer-term solutions can be put in place if required.

Then, we make sure we highlight the EAP every time there is a particular awareness week/month/day that ties in, such as Mental Health Awareness Week. This helps us to keep employees aware of the platform and its benefits. A lot of the messaging we use internally currently is about how we’re here to listen. You don’t want people to be afraid of judgment.

Wojciech DochanWojciech Dochan
Managing Director, Bravo Benefits

Implement a “Wellness Ambassador” Program

To initiate and navigate conversations about mental health in the workplace, consider implementing a “Wellness Ambassador” program.

Select employees across different teams who are trained to serve as approachable resources for their colleagues. They can facilitate discussions, share resources, and create a supportive environment. This peer-based approach can reduce stigma, encourage open conversations, and foster a culture of empathy and well-being in the workplace.

Sarah PolitiSarah Politi
Founder and Managing Director, Jade & Sterling

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