5 tips for effectively supporting employees with mental health concerns

1 Sep ‘22
5 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp

In recent years, mental health care has received increasing attention, with online mental health support seeing a boom in popularity. Employees are also becoming increasingly invested in their mental health, or so say 55% of HR professionals according to recent research carried out by OpenUp. So, how do you respond to this as an organization?

A comprehensive article by McKinsey & Company highlighted the need for mental health support in the workplace and demonstrated how large corporations are already responding to this. MT/Sprout warns of the hefty price tag that awaits when mental health is ignored by companies. Both articles show that companies and employees have a growing need for more support with mental health concerns.

It isn’t just expensive when employee mental health is overlooked, there are costs in terms of productivity, employee satisfaction and extended absences. The correct mental health support, including preventative care, contributes to making organizations healthier across the board.



Employee mental health


Employee mental health has deteriorated substantially in the last year according to recent research by OpenUp. 33% of employees between the ages of 18-65 report that their mental health has deteriorated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the younger group, those under the age of 36, this figure is as high as 43%.

It should be a cause for concern that 67% of employees don’t know who they should approach or what they should do if they have a mental health query. 45% even report having the sense that mental health concerns shouldn’t be discussed internally. The result is that 25% of all employees are struggling with their mental health and seeking tips, advice or contact with a psychologist to help with this.


By working together with OpenUp, you give your employees a clear and accessible counter where they can go when they are not feeling well. By offering one-on-one coaching, group sessions and online self-help programmes in an accessible way, we make sure there is something for every employee.



The biggest challenges for HR professionals 


Increasing numbers of employees are turning to HR for help. A recent study showed that over the past year, 42% of HR professionals have seen an increase in the number of people visiting their (digital) offices with mental health concerns. What’s more, 43% have reported an increase in absences due to this decline in mental health. The need for additional support is increasing.

HR employees are on the hunt for ways to offer (continued) quality support to their employees. Here are the three major challenges they’ve seen:


  • Due to social distancing, 83% of HR professionals have had little to no contact with employees, which obscures or even completely distorts their view of mental health within the company;
  • 55% of HR professionals report that, internally, there is not enough in place to provide appropriate support to employees with mental health concerns;
  • 37% of HR professionals find it difficult to offer support for mental health concerns, due to a lack of confidence, knowledge, comfort or experience.

The following tips help to support employees with mental health challenges.


1. Be curious without being judgemental


To get to the bottom of what’s really going on with an employee, you need to be open, curious and ask questions. If your first question isn’t answered (well) then keep asking. Try to figure out why somebody is saying something, or not saying something. Don’t just ask how somebody is doing, but more importantly, why that’s the case.


What is making the person feel this way? Put aside your own judgements and opinions and don’t jump straight to conclusions or solutions. Listen, gather information and wait till the conversation is over to think about possible solutions.


2. Open up first


If you’re trying to get somebody else to open up, it always helps to start by setting an example. By being letting yourself be vulnerable, employees are more likely to show you their vulnerable sides as well. Are you having trouble getting an employee to engage in conversation? Talk about how you’re feeling right now or give them some examples of recent situations where you’ve felt a bit uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be anything major.

Chris Byrne, head of e-commerce at Bestseller, gives a great example: “I grew up in a time when it wasn’t easy to talk about mental health; when it was seen as weakness. By sharing my own experiences and working with OpenUp, I’m hoping to encourage our employees to be open. It definitely helps you to grow as an individual. It’s part of your personal development.”


3. Make services accessible and increase capacity


Make time for your employees and ensure that you’re always available. It’s often difficult to offer support for mental health concerns when you’re trying to squeeze it in amongst other tasks. Put aside some time in your schedule so that you can offer your full attention. Struggling to manage on your own? Ask your colleagues for support or seek out an external party to help you.

Marc Rottinghuis, co-founder of Spryng, shares his experience: “Being able to offer a consultation with a professional within 24 hours means there’s less of a barrier preventing people from getting the help they need, which ensures problems are solved more quickly. Talking always takes a load off the mind and, as far as we’re concerned: The sooner, the better.”


4. Provide measurable outcomes


If you don’t measure it, you won’t know. When you’re trying to track mental health across a particular company, it makes sense to work with measurable outcomes. Issuing a clear survey with pre-determined response options is a great way to get a visual overview of the state of mental health within a particular organization. You should do this at least once per quarter. This will help you to notice any trends and form a basis for devising solutions.

Roos Schelvis, policy consultant at Erasmus University Rotterdam, explains how they do this: “We don’t just want to gain insight at an individual level, but also across each team and faculty. We’re looking to roll out a multi-layer approach, starting with a process to map out which solutions are necessary at each different level. This way we can implement changes throughout the entire organization. Without jeopardizing the anonymity of any individual employees, OpenUp can help us to identify trends so that we can make decisions accordingly.”


5. Personalize your approach


It sounds obvious, but this often gets overlooked: You need to personalize your approach. Since everyone is different, the same thing isn’t going to work for everybody. Some people love chatting to another person, while others prefer to listen or read about how other people manage their mental health concerns. Be conscious of everybody’s individual needs and try to find solutions that match.

At OpenUp we offer our clients’ employees access to online one-on-one consultations with a psychologist. In addition, we organize (group)mindfulness sessions, masterclasses, interviews and surveys, as well as offering online self-help programs and useful blog articles. This means that each individual can find their preferred way of working on their mental health.


Read the experiences of Lara Herpers, People & Culture Director at Team5pm: “A focus on mental health should be interwoven throughout the whole company.”