How to talk to your HR manager when having a poor mental health day


As a society, we have a better understanding of mental health in the workplace than ever before. That being said, there’s still a way to go before the stigma is completely gone. We’re heading in the right direction for sure – towards a culture which normalises mental health so that it’s treated equally to physical wellness – but for now, many are still suffering in silence, worried they’ll be treated differently by revealing their mental health problems to their employers.

Since you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re feeling similarly apprehensive.

It’s ok to be cautious. It’s not easy talking about mental health with anyone, let alone the people who pay your wages and influence you career.

But if you’re well being is negatively impacting your work, having an open conversation with your employer about how you’re feeling is a sensible step to take. If your organization is worth their salt, you’ll get the support you need.

How can talking to HR help?

Not everyone will be comfortable talking to their boss directly however. Maybe you don’t see eye to eye, you’re worried about the way they’ll react, or maybe your boss is a part of the problem. As an alternative, you can seek help and support from your HR department, who often have the procedures already in place to support these kinds of matters and will be aware of the legal obligations.

We’ve put together some tips on how to get the most out of your conversation with HR, and how best to approach it:

  1. Check out the company policy

Many organizations have already taken steps to promote mental health in the workplace and it may well be that your employer has already published guidance about who to talk and the support they’ll provide in your HR system or an employee portal. If the information isn’t easy to find, familiarise yourself with your employer’s legal obligations and look for relevant case studies – perhaps in a similar industry sector. That way you’ll feel more confident when you initiate first contact.

  1. Decide what you want the outcome to be

What’s the ideal outcome for you? A change in your working hours or working area perhaps? The opportunity to work from home, to take some time off for treatment or a lighter workload? Maybe you just want to make them aware of how you’re feeling, in case something happens in the future, like a panic attack or an increase in absences. Knowing what you want to achieve will focus your conversation, and HR will be in a better position to take appropriate action to support you.

If you want to write a draft letter about asking for changes, mental health charity MIND have a useful template you can use:

  1. Talk to friends/close colleagues first

Talking to someone who you feel closer with before approaching HR can make the whole thing seem a bit less daunting. Think about it like role playing an interview with your friend before doing it for real. It will help settle the nerves, and you’ll feel more comfortable talking about it as a result. Discussing your situation for the first time is never going to be easy, but starting with your friends will help focus your conversation when it comes to speaking to HR.

  1. Plan what you’re going to say

Write a list of points you want to cover in your meeting to help you stay on track. It’s easy for the conversation to go off on a tangent, and miss out key points you wanted to make. Keep what you have to say professional and appropriate to the workplace – you can say as much or as little as you want, but it’s best to focus in on how your mental health is affecting your work, and what can be done to help.  If part of the problem is the people you work with, do you have evidence you can share – perhaps a log of incidents, copies of emails, requests for training or absence that appear to have been turned down out of hand? HR has to be impartial, so if you need them to help you address workplace relationships, they’ll need your help uncovering the issues.

  1. Initiate the conversation

So, you know what you want to get out of the meeting, and maybe you’ve talked to a friend or colleague about how you’re feeling already. How do you go about actually initiating the conversation?

There’s no right answer. Every workplace is different, so it’s up to you to gage the situation. If your organisation’s culture is quite informal, popping your head round the door and asking them for a quick chat would be fine. If you have a more traditional set-up, you might want to send an email requesting an official meeting instead.

Top tip: Pick your moment. If you can tell your HR department is under a lot of strain, with looming deadlines for instance, you might want to come back at a quieter time in order to get their full attention.

  1. Talk when you’re feeling good

With mental health, it’s common for emotions to fluctuate. Some days will be better than others, so it’s a good idea to address the problem when you’re in a good headspace rather than when you’re experiencing a low point. You’ll be more objective when you talk, you’ll feel more stable and your conversation will be more productive.


Hopefully, by following these tips, you’ll be able to have a productive conversation with your HR manager and get the appropriate support. Remember, the lead-up to having this kind of conversation is usually worse than actually doing it.

The more people open-up to their employers about their mental health problems, the sooner the stigma will go. And you never know, your openness and honesty may inspire colleagues to address their problems too, and that’s a good enough reason as any to talk to your employer about how you’re feeling.


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