How to approach your boss when you’re feeling stressed

Two-thirds of British adults have admitted to having experienced a mental health problem at some point in their lives.

Work can contribute to poor mental health, and the government’s Thriving at Work report has shockingly found that around 300,000 people with a long-term mental problem lose their jobs each year, and 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition.

If you start feeling stressed at work, or feeling like you are suffering from poor mental or emotional health, trying to explain this to your boss may feel like a daunting prospect. In a survey of professional finance workers we carried out last year, we found that only a quarter (25%) would feel most comfortable talking to their line manager about stress or mental health problems.

It’s understandable to be nervous about approaching your manager about stress or mental health issues, but most managers will usually try to give you as much support as possible, especially in light of The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which requires employers to take reasonable steps to look after employees’ mental health and welfare. Here are five steps to help you approach your manager in the best way and hopefully get the support you need.

1. Prepare what you might want to say. Take some time to think about how much you want to disclose, and what you might need from your manager or employer to help you.

2. Ask to speak to your manager privately. You can email them and ask if you can have a private meeting with them, which may be easier than approaching them face to face.

3. The best way to approach the subject is to try and be as open as possible. Let them know what is happening as soon as possible, although you don’t necessarily need to tell them the full details, only as much as you feel comfortable doing.

4. Let them know what support you need. You will probably be best positioned to know what you will need to help you, so ask for it, whether it’s time off, changes to your working hours, or changes to your workload. Annie Donovan, Chief Executive of KIM Inspire, a non-profit organisation that aims to provide routes to emotional well-being through a variety of activities and group work says: “It’s usually the person who is struggling with mental health who will know the kind of things they need that will take the pressure off and alleviate some stress.”

5. If your manager is not as helpful as you might hope for, you may want to speak to someone in your organisation’s Human Resources department, and if they are still not very forthcoming, you could get in contact with the legal line at Mind.

With many people up and down the country reporting that they have experienced mental health issues at some point in their lives, much of which is because of work-related reasons, anyone suffering should not feel like they are alone. Nearly half (43%) of those finance professionals we spoke to admitted that they have suffered from stress on a frequent or regular basis at some stage in their career.

Annie Donovan suggests it is best to have open conversations about any problems:

“Just be open and just treat it as an everyday conversation, Don’t be afraid to ask because it’s not going to hurt anybody. Nobody’s mental health will become worse as a result of talking about it.” After you’ve talked to your boss about how you are feeling, there is a good chance you will feel at least a little better, having got it off your chest, and also because you will be able to start getting the support you need to start trying to feel better.

Adam Harwood is AAT's Media Relations Manager.

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