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Team Intellect

The Hard Question: How do I talk to my manager about my mental health?

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Table of Content

Table of Contents

“Just because no one else can heal you or do your inner work for you, does not mean you can, should or need to do it alone.” – Lisa Olivera

Many believe there is no point in sharing our mental health challenges with others at home and work because there’s only so much family and colleagues can do. Even though destigmatisation has been well-paced in recent years, workplaces have a long way to go in normalising such conversations. 

As a life coach, and HR professional, I have seen executives who choose paid sessions with me over practitioners within their organisations who are available free of charge. Held back by the fear of jeopardising increments, promotions, reputation, and even job security in the event of downsizing, 82% of workers diagnosed with mental illnesses do not disclose them to their managers. 

However, when mental disturbances go unaddressed, employees who work at a slower pace end up working longer hours and sleeping less. Which begs the question: at what cost should employees withhold their state of mental health?

Should you talk to your manager about your mental health?

Created by the French mathematician and philosopher Descartes, the Cartesian Quadrants is a technique I use with clients who have to make tough decisions independently. 

This method elicits genuine responses and considers the implications of every possible decision from four angles. It tackles a pattern of self-sabotage by honing in on one simple question: what happens if I do this? As our minds get confused when holding too many viewpoints, writing is imperative in this exercise. You can try this alone, with a friend, or with a coach. 

Below is an exercise on deciding between disclosing and withholding feelings of burnout, depression, and anxiety at work.

It is critical to acknowledge that a negative perception could be made in all cases. Despite that, should an employee conclude that it’s more logical to disclose than withhold, it is important to identify the best person in the organisation—whether it be the HR manager or their immediate supervisor—to handle this maturely. Depending on the employee’s comfort level, they can decide to have this conversation in a formal office setting or over a cup of coffee informally.

Set your intentions for the conversation 

Set basic expectations before initiating a conversation. What do you hope to achieve from the sharing? Here are some possibilities:

  • A better rapport and more trusting working relationship 
  • More flexibility and ease when taking days off
  • Reduced workload 
  • Change of role, team, or function 
  • Additional support on time-consuming tasks 

More importantly, what are the trade-offs you are willing to make for your desired outcome? Would you be okay to work fewer hours if it meant a temporary pay reduction? Help your manager or HR personnel help you by considering these outcomes ahead of time. 

Decide how much “downtime” you need 

In some cases, stress can be eased in a week or two. In others, employees who are burnt out may need to take a few months off work, and those with diagnosed mental health conditions may need long-term treatments. To avoid assumptions by the management and manage their expectations, communicate what you need clearly so they know how to follow up.  

Create an entry point in the conversation

For employees who are nervous about broaching the topic of mental health with their supervisors, it might be a good idea to start with the company’s values or recent movements. This could sound like:

Last month, the leadership team discussed the importance of transparency in our town hall. I have given some thought and, in the spirit of openness, would like to share some challenges I’ve been facing at work.”

“As you are a mentor to me, I would like to seek your advice on managing the ever-changing work arrangements lately. Frankly, I’m finding it difficult to adjust.”

When asked for advice, people are often willing to share and curious to know why they were chosen as confidantes. This gives employees an entry point to open up, though they should be mindful of boundaries in informal exchanges. 

Explain the impact on your work

mental health at work

Opening up is cathartic and it can be tempting to go off on a tangent, but employees must remember to highlight how mental health struggles ultimately affect their performance at work. Are their struggles inhibiting them from engaging with team members? Or are they translating to lower productivity and quality of work?

Follow that up by asking about potential provisions and, based on deliberation in the first two steps, state your preferred outcome from the conversation. 

Give your manager time to process

While the situation may feel urgent, employees should understand that their managers may not have dealt with such a conversation before. Even if their reaction is not ideal, respect their need for time and space to process your sharing before committing to an action plan. Be patient and check if there’s a better time to follow up with them. 

How employers might respond 

Contrary to the disastrous consequences employees imagine, employers will not resort to immediate and harsh action in most cases. Instead, they would look for alternatives. 

A client I coached was offered a different role that no longer required them to face customers. It sounded like a compromise initially, but its benefits on the employee’s stress levels were remarkable. Temporary and permanent role switches may also be offered to help employees cope with mental health challenges without compromising their jobs. Some firms have introduced sabbatical leave policies for employees with diagnosed mental illnesses, while others refer them to internal counsellors. The appropriateness of a solution-focused approach depends on the company’s inclination, to begin with.

At an organizational level, managers and HR personnel should also be trained to handle mental health conversations sensitively by listening actively without judgement. At the end of the day, only with a mutual effort from employers and employees can this endeavour succeed.

Contact us 

Benjamin Brustis – Head of Business Development, Hong Kong

Email: benjamin.brustis@intellect.co  

Phone number: +852 6909 9820

Intellect team: team@intellect.co or visit https://go.intellect.co/hk/  to learn more


「僅僅因為沒有其他人可以治愈您,或為您調整內心世界,並不意味著您可以、應該或需要獨自去做這件事。」– 麗莎·奧利維拉(Lisa Olivera)


作為一名人生導師兼人力資源專業人士,我曾經見過一些管理層選擇我的付費服務,而不是其機構內的免費專業服務。由於擔心會危及加薪、晉升、聲譽,甚至在裁員時擔心工作的安全,被診斷患有精神疾病的僱員中有 82% 僱員不願向其經理披露病情。 然而,如果精神障礙無法解決,工作速度較慢的僱員最終會有導致更長的工作時間更長的工作時間更少的睡眠。這就帶出了一個問題:僱員應為隱瞞心理健康狀態付出多少代價?








  • 更融洽、更可信的工作關係 
  • 休假時更具彈性、更輕鬆
  • 減少工作量 
  • 職責、團隊或部門的變化 
  • 對耗時的任務提供額外支援














與僱員想像的災難性後果相反,在大多數情況下,僱主不會立即採取嚴厲的行動。他們反而會尋求替代方案。 我指導的一位委託人獲調換到無須面對客戶的其他職位。起初,這聽起來像是一種妥協,但它對緩解僱員壓力水平有顯著益處。機構還可以調換臨時和永久的職位,幫助僱員在不影響工作的情況下應對心理健康問題。一些公司為被診斷患有精神疾病的僱員引入了公休假政策,而其他公司則將其轉介給內部輔導員。首先,以解決方案為中心的方法是否合適取決於公司的意向。在機構層面,經理或人力資源專員也應該接受培訓,透過非批判的積極傾聽來敏感地處理心理健康相關的對話。最終,只有僱主和僱員共同努力,這項嘗試才能取得成功。


Benjamin Brustis - 香港區業務發展部主任



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