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1 in 4 of us experience a mental health problem at some time in our lives, is your business doing enough to support its employees?


Depression in the workplace is a problem that is costing UK employers an estimated £30 billion a year through reduced productivity, absence and recruitment.

As the BBC highlighted in a special feature on Breakfast News this morning, good companies often invest in their employees’ physical health, but find it much harder to know how to address their mental wellbeing.

Indeed, in the Institute of Directors recent report on Mental Health in the Workplace they reported that 54 per cent of their members had been spoken to about mental health concerns by their staff, including feelings of burnout or stress. The vast majority would then recommend that the staff member go to their GP, but with a recent survey from the charity Mind emphasising the lack of mental health training given to GPs, the report states: “it is clear that employees with mental ill health could be offered more tailored support by employers”.

If employers are being asked to support their staff with mental health concerns but even GP’s have very little in the way of mental health training, then where are they to turn? What are they to say or do that will help?

One of the questions I get asked a lot is from compassionate Managers is ‘what should I say?’ If you are the person that employees often confide in but feel ill-equipped to respond appropriately, this quick guide may help.

Here are my top tips for what to do when a member of staff comes to you asking for support or to let you know how they are feeling:


  • Don’t panic, just listen. It can be daunting for Managers when a staff member is emotional or when they are seeking your assistance with a mental or emotional issue. It has often taken a lot of time and courage for that person to confide in you, but 9 times out of 10 they are looking for verbal reassurance and understanding more than anything else as an immediate response. All you need to do is listen.


  • Reflecting is a useful skill that counsellors use to show that they are actively listening and it is very straightforward to learn. Reflecting is simply paraphrasing and restating the feelings and words of the speaker, it shows that you have heard what they have said and that you are attempting to understand and empathise with them. An example would be “I hear that right now you are feeling very stressed and you are unsure of where to turn, is that right?”



  • Remember you are a human first and connect on this level with the person sharing with you. Assure them that they are not alone in their feelings and that there is help and support available. However, be careful to set limits around your ability to be involved – you want to deal with the immediacy of their problem by showing concern but without positioning yourself as the expert or the confidant. Be clear that you are supportive and recognise the need to assist them but that you will now suggest an appropriate referral.


  • You won’t always know how to solve the problem, that’s ok. Assure the member of staff that you are on their side, that you are willing to find the right support for them and that you are happy to work together to ensure this happens. If you need time to think it’s ok to say so, a simple “Thank you so much for trusting me with how you are feeling, I need you to know that you can trust me now to help you get the support that you need. I would like to find out what is available in the way of support and then talk again, would that be ok with you?”


  • Don’t take on too much. The compassionate manager wants to help and cares about the welfare of their staff, however they can often soak up the emotional states of others around them and alter their own well-being, without realising. If you find yourself feeling more emotional or out of sorts after a conversation with another member of staff, check in with how you felt before the conversation started – chances are that you have taken on their feelings as your own. If you didn’t feel unsettled beforehand then remind yourself that these are not your feelings and you are in a far better position to help if you remain emotionally separate.


The main thing to remember is that you are not expected, nor can you be, the expert in everything that is brought to your table. You can listen empathically, you can refer to the appropriate person for further support and you can keep an eye on how things are progressing but to feel the pressure to solve every problem is to perpetual the problem – support needs to be in place for all staff, including those who are the ones that provide the support in the first place.

If you would like to see the report you can find a copy of it here: