Mental health and the workplace: A conversation could change a life

11 September 2023

A black rectangular sign with text "R U OK? A conversation could change a life." and a yellow background.
Image description: A black rectangular sign with text "R U OK? A conversation could change a life." and a yellow background.

R U OK? is a public health promotion charity that focuses on mental health. It encourages people to stay connected and have meaningful conversations that can help others through difficult times.

This year, R U OK? will be marked on September 14th across Australia. This day serves as a reminder for all of us to reach out to our loved ones, friends, family, or colleagues and let them know that we are here to listen and support them.

How can you check in on a colleague you think is experiencing poor mental health?

Given the prevalence of mental health issues in Australia, you may already employ or work with people who experience mental health issues. You may likely notice changes in a colleague’s behaviour or attitude at work. This may temporarily impact their productivity or ability to meet agreed performance targets, and their general wellbeing in the workplace.

Before you approach a colleague or employee about their mental health, it is good practice to plan your discussion. Thinking about it ahead of time can guide you in what to say. A good starting point is to tell your colleague your concern and be specific about the workplace examples you have noticed, always coming from a place of empathy and understanding.

R U OK? emphasises that you don't need to be an expert to reach out, just be a good friend and a great listener.

R U OK? promotes a simple four-step process to check-in on someone:

Ask, R U OK?: simple questions like, "How are you going?" or, "You seem less chatty than usual, is everything okay?" If your colleague isn't open to speaking yet, let them know they can reach out whenever they are ready, or check in if there is someone else, they would like to chat with.

Listen with an open mind: ensure you are in a space where you can talk and truly listen to the person you are concerned about. Let there be silence, and encourage them to explain their feelings, for example, asking, "How are you feeling about that?".

Encourage action: ask them what they have done in the past that has helped or how they would like you to help. Let them know that there is help out there, for example, your workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP), JobAccess, Beyond Blue and more. Encourage them to speak to their manager if they have a supportive manager.

Check in: regularly connect to see how they are progressing. You could say, "I've been thinking of you and wanted to know how you've been going since we last chatted." Setting reminders to check in helps. Your genuine care can make a real difference to your colleague's situation.

Tips to support an employee who has disclosed their mental health condition

If your employee’s current mental health experience is impacting their ability to do their job, consider ways to overcome work barriers. Some simple strategies to help include:

  1. Discuss together where the barriers are and what the solutions may be. The goal is to either remove or make the barriers easier to manage.
  2. Have clear role descriptions and key performance indicators available to everyone in the business. Use these to identify and address situations that may arise, including forming a plan to support the person to perform in their role whilst also managing their mental health.
  3. Consider if an increase in the structure and routine of the role could help.
  4. JobAccess can support employees with mental health conditions and employers with expert, tailored advice on workplace adjustments, modifications, one one-on-one counselling and awareness training. These can be organised and funded through the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF). Contact JobAccess on 1800 464 800 to discuss your situation and requirements.

JobAccess encourages you to get involved in R U OK? Day, and help raise awareness and action about the power of a conversation in supporting those with mental health conditions.

We are here to help create and embed good practice in building mentally healthy workplaces. Get in touch by calling 1800 464 800 or visiting

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