For Managers: Recognising Team Mental Well-being Challenges

3 Apr ‘24
5 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
Reviewed by psychologist Kim Schlüter
Sometimes you notice someone behaving differently than usual. A little more absent or distant, or maybe just irritable or busy. This is perfectly normal; nobody is happy all the time. But a shift in someone’s behaviour sometimes has a deeper cause.


As a manager, it is essential to keep an eye on how your team members are doing. By knowing what to look out for, you can offer colleagues timely support or further help.


Characteristics of mental challenges at work


Research shows that 60-75 per cent of people face mental challenges at some point in their lives, including stress, negativity, or lack of self-confidence. Thus, it is not surprising that someone in your team finds themselves in such a situation.


But how do you recognise when someone is not feeling well? And when does that indicate mental challenges? Psychologist Kim Schlüter explains what to look out for and what you can do.


Behavioural changes


Your behaviour is determined by how you feel. If someone is uncomfortable in their skin, you will notice it in the other person’s behaviour. 


Kim explains: “It can be different for everyone. Some people become quieter and move a bit more into the background, while others might react irritably and quickly snap out of it or run away from the situation.” 


Signals to watch out for include: 


  1. Becoming easily distracted
  2. Looking and acting restless 
  3. Difficulty controlling emotions
  4. Impatience
  5. Reduced interest in work 
  6. Low in energy
  7. Irritable or easily irritated
  8. Appearing isolated or not socialising
  9. Looking sad or distressed
  10. Nervous or tense behaviour


Be aware that you cannot always signal everything someone is experiencing. In a conversation, if necessary, you can ask about any other signs, such as tension, decreased appetite (or just eating more) or poor sleep.


“It is good to be aware that everyone has a down day or week from time to time,” Kim continues. “For example, it doesn’t necessarily follow that irritability or a lack of focus in someone immediately indicates a major problem.”


The general advice? “Proactively ask how things are going the moment you notice something, not just after a while. The main thing is to open the dialogue, show that you are there for someone and create a safe environment. You can also be extra alert to this after a major event in someone’s life.” 


And make it clear that it is also okay to first talk to other people about it and only return to the manager when the colleague is ready. 

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What can you do as a manager?


As a manager,  you play a crucial role in shaping a healthy company culture. Being attuned to your team’s well-being is essential, so taking the time to read and learn about this signifies a significant step forward.  



Did you know that OpenUp offers numerous resources to guide you in this direction, including courses specifically designed to support managers in their roles? Take a look here. 

That being said, it’s important to remember that despite your best efforts, you cannot resolve every challenge your team members face. Ultimately, it is up to the individuals themselves to address their challenges. Your role is to observe your team closely and cultivate a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their struggles and feelings openly. Let’s see how you can make that happen:



Listen and show interest 


“Show genuine interest in how someone is doing. Give people space to share their stories and listen. Don’t underestimate the two, often we find listening and creating space the hardest thing to do. Then offer help or support if someone needs it,” tips Kim.


Ask questions


Be aware that people sometimes play down their problems simply because they don’t want to burden others with them. Do not be afraid to ask further questions when someone tells you something and let them know they can talk to you.


How? Kim advises, “The familiar ‘listen, summarise, ask through’ is a good way to do that. Address comments that downplay the situation (such as “it’s not so bad”) or words with connotations (such as “annoying”, “irritating” or “challenging”). Let the other person know that you see and hear them (“it’s also a lot together”) if this is how it appears to you. This is how you let the other person know it is okay to elaborate.”


For example, you can ask “What exactly do you mean by…”, “What exactly do you find difficult about…” or “If I understand correctly…”.


When someone comes to you, they appreciate it when you listen and show genuine interest without immediately offering solutions. Just sharing itself can be helpful. And remember to emphasise that these conversations remain between you and the team member. 


Schedule regular check-ins


Schedule a check-in with your team members regularly (e.g. every month) to talk about mental well-being, workload, stress and other possible factors affecting someone’s job happiness. This could include what someone wants to develop, for example, as well as impeding factors.


Notice something is up in between these check-ins? Sensitively touch on the topic: ask how things are going and, if possible, stay nearby for a while so the staff member can come to you himself.


What if there is more to it?


Listening is the most important step in giving mental challenges or problems space. Point it out if you don’t know the topic and discuss what may be needed together. Let your team articulate this. 


Often a listening ear is enough, but sometimes more is needed, such as a conversation with the company doctor or HR. Discuss this openly with the team members.


Are there heavier, more concerning themes at play? Then don’t be afraid to ask further questions, but also indicate that you don’t know how best to deal with this and that you will look for appropriate help together. 



If your company has partnered with us,  you can always recommend our support services to your team members. For instance, you might say to a colleague who is having a difficult time: “Did you know we have access to psychological support through OpenUp? I’ve used it myself and found it incredibly helpful. The professionals there can offer guidance on various challenges. I’ll send you a link to check it out.”



Sharing this link with your colleagues could open new opportunities for them and potentially transform their lives positively. A small gesture like this can make a significant impact, so don’t hesitate to take action! 



Are you interested in learning more about how to effectively engage in conversations about mental well-being with your team? Follow our course here for detailed guidance. 

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