Learning how to talk about your mental health with your employer can be an invaluable skill that encourages contentment and productivity in your workplace — and at home.
For many people, leaving the frustrations of work at work can be challenging. Oftentimes, when you feel a day’s worth of negative emotions on the job, those emotions can follow you into your private life.
Talking about your mental well-being at work as soon as you start to feel your mental health being taxed can make a big difference in how you’re impacted.
Speaking with your boss about personal topics, however, may not come naturally.
In 2013, more than 1,900 people participated in an in-depth phone survey about how stress impacts their lives. Approximately 83% of those in the United States said they felt stressed about something on the job.
In a 2022 report, 4 out of 5 employees stated that work stress was affecting their relationships — both at work and home.
The same report indicated that 2 out of 3 employees aren’t comfortable providing feedback to their managers, and only 38% felt comfortable using their company’s mental health services.
This fear, or reluctance, of finding out how to talk about your mental health with your employer may force you down the road to burnout.
“Burnout occurs when someone’s workload feels overwhelming for an extended period of time,” explains licensed clinical social worker Jason Drake, a board certified neurofeedback practitioner in Katy, Texas.
Warning signs of work burnout
According to Dr. Puja Aggarwal, a board certified neurologist and life coach from Orlando, Florida, signs of work burnout include:
- poor sleep
- social withdrawal
- extreme exhaustion
- feelings of resentment toward work or home
- muscle aches
- feeling listless
- lacking initiative
- difficulty concentrating
Managing mental health conditions at work
Burnout isn’t a diagnosis, and anyone can experience it under a combination of circumstances.
Sometimes talking about your mental health with your boss means disclosing clinical conditions you may be living with, and that’s OK. A mindful discussion could lead to support accompanying your existing treatment plan.
When you live with a mental health condition, knowing how to talk about your mental health with your employer can help you ensure your workplace is as supportive of your needs as possible.
Neurodiversity in the workplace — having folks who’s brains process and problem solve differently — can be an asset.
You might find our podcast, “Should Your Workplace Know You Live With Bipolar Disorder?” helpful to understand disclosing mental health conditions in general.
Learning how to talk about your mental health with your employer is only beneficial if you’re willing to take that step.
Remembering bosses are people, too
“Your higher-ups are people too, even if they don’t act like it sometimes,” says Rachel Wahba-Dunkley, a psychotherapist-turned-holistic life-coach, from New York City. “We forget that higher-ups have emotions, thoughts, and lives outside of the workplace, too, and if they don’t, then that’s an issue for them to figure out, not you!”
While it can be important to maintain respect for your boss’s position, approaching the conversation as you would with any person not in a position of authority may be helpful.
You might be surprised at how well your employer can relate to your mental health check-in.
“Keep in mind that your higher-ups have very likely experienced burnout themselves. The positions they are in are high-stress positions, and they will likely be able to empathize far more than one would imagine,” adds Drake.
Wahba-Dunkley points out that practicing your conversation can help take some of the uncertainty out of what might happen during such a meeting.
You can practice as often as you want or need with a family member, friend, or mental health professional.
“They can offer suggestions and affirmations of your approach that can make you feel less stressed about this conversation,” she says.
It’s natural to feel vulnerable when discussing your mental health with an employer. With mindful approaches, however, mental health discussions can benefit you and your employer.
Talk in your boss’s favorite language
“Some bosses care about numbers, some care about work morale, and some care about your feelings,” suggests Wahba-Dunkley. “It’s not your job to change for them, but you want to speak in a way where they can understand what you’re looking for and why it’s important.”
She says, for example, if they care about numbers, talk about how your mental health or burnout impacts your percentage of completed projects, conversion rate, etcetera.
Drake points out it can be natural to feel anxiety or apprehension when thinking about talking with your boss, which may lead to irrational thoughts or feelings about the conversation.
He recommends looking at the situation as an objective observer by asking yourself:
- How has your boss responded in the past to similar conversations?
- Has your boss talked about burnout before?
- Has your boss been workable in the past?
“More than likely your boss may appreciate you coming to them about these feelings of burnout,” Drake says. “Burnout unattended can lead to turnover which your boss would like to avoid.”
Offering a list of solutions
Coming prepared with some ways that might help improve your mental health on the job can allow you to communicate proactively.
“Before starting the conversation with your boss, write down potential solutions to reduce your workload,” suggests Aggarwal. “By offering solutions, you’re showing your boss that you can problem solve.”
You don’t have to have a fearless personality to be able to speak about mental health with your employer.
Most employers understand the impacts of stress at work — they’re feeling it, too.
Practicing what you’re going to say and humanizing your managers can help you initiate that important conversation. You can also try asking for a day off — when you really need to.