risk management

Why asking about a colleague’s mental health is never embarrassing

If you’re concerned about someone’s mental health or wellbeing, talk to them. When you start the conversation, you’re reassuring them they’re not alone while offering the support they may need to seek professional help. And that’s good news for everyone – including your business.

Are you okay?

Asking if someone’s okay has thankfully become a pretty natural thing to do, especially given what we’ve all been through with Covid. Yet some managers still believe talking publicly about mental health will open a can of worms. In reality, ignoring mental health issues will only make matters worse, possibly leaving you to face bigger problems down the track. It benefits everyone to lead by example.

The fact is, when you show genuine support for colleagues, you’re building a reputation for treating workers well. This, in turn, builds loyalty. Think about it. When you treat people well – in and out of the workplace – they’re more likely to respond in kind. And every business owner knows loyalty and positive word-of-mouth is invaluable.

Asking the tough questions – the right way

If you have someone you want to speak to, here’s a few basic tips to help you overcome any initial awkwardness.

Think before you speak

Think about what you’re going to say before you start the conversation. What changes have you noticed in your colleague’s behaviour that have you concerned? What words will you use and how will you use them?

Find a safe space

Where will you talk? Choose somewhere private where you’ll both feel comfortable.

Be an advocate

Ask if they want another person to join the conversation. This may make them feel more comfortable. It’s also okay if your colleague doesn’t want to talk. Encourage them to talk to someone else if they don’t want to talk to you.

Be clear and transparent

Make sure it’s understood this is not a performance review. You’re talking to them out of genuine concern for their mental health and wellbeing, not as their boss.

Allow enough time

Allow time so they don’t feel hurried. They’ll appreciate your commitment.


Be all ears. Listen, listen and listen some more.

Encourage professional help 

Perhaps they’d like to see their GP or, if you have one, someone from your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Check in

Following the conversation, check in on them from time to time to see how they’re going.

Keep it confidential

Above all, keep the conversation confidential unless they’re happy for you to consult with others.

Initiating and encouraging these conversations can be tough. But having them will make you a better manager and will ultimately help your business run more efficiently. Avoiding the problem doesn’t make it go away – it just gives it time to grow bigger.


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The information is intended to be of general nature only. Subject to any rights you may have under any law, we do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss or damage, including loss of business or profits or any other indirect loss, incurred as a result of reliance upon the information. Please make your own enquiries.