I think you all know how I feel about mental health in the workplace. I am all for making it safer to admit that we might be struggling, and that the stigma around that, or the stigma around just taking some time off, and truly being unavailable, needs to change. On the other hand, this is just as important if you’re a manager who wants to change the culture of the office around mental health.
“It’s important to note that if you haven’t had a close connection with a particular employee in the past, your relationship may be low on psychological safety. To start building that up, take small steps. You might say something like, “I know that you and I haven’t typically talked about non-work topics, but for me, work and non-work feel like they’re blurring together these days. How are you doing with that?””
Or as I would put it, if you don’t even know my wife’s name, or can’t remember that I don’t have kids, maybe start there before you ask about my mental health, cool?
Suddenly asking someone you barely know anything about outside of work about mental health, will be a shock, and quite frankly, will seem threatening more than it seems supportive. As in, “why is my boss asking about this? Does she think I’m not doing my job, am I about to get fired?”
I’m assuming that’s not how you want them to feel, so be thoughtful about how you bring these subjects up. By all means, work up to it, and work up toward helping your reports feel comfortable, but do it in a way that actually works, not in a way that makes them feel less safe.