woman holding head on hand in distress while someone pats her shoulder to comfort her
31 Jan 2023

Signs of Mental Health Issues at Work

When a person's life undergoes significant changes--  such as loss, health issues, family crises or other triggering situations, or they are battling an ongoing mental health illness-- they often (and unwittingly) bring these issues to work.  For this reason, it is critical for leaders to keep mental health discussions at the forefront. 

Addressing mental wellness in the workplace is essential for all employees’ personal and professional growth. Most importantly, it contributes to the overall success of your organization. 

Integrating workplace mental health training as part of management and leadership education, can not only increase employee productivity but contribute to enhancing the overall work culture and employee work ethic.

A work environment supportive of mental health initiatives can create a positive employee experience as employees react to the empathy and compassion of management in addressing their mental health challenges. That will garner trusting relationships and better employee retention rates allowing employees to invest in a workplace where their overall well-being is prioritized.  

Many leaders don't know how and when to intervene

While it is known that creating and maintaining a healthy work environment will help your employees and organization thrive, many leaders fear crossing the boundary between personal and work life. Frankly, many leaders feel ill-equipped to know what signs to look for and how to intervene professionally.  

Online training courses such as Connectivity and Conversations provide human resource professionals and managers with professional training to face employee mental health concerns. These courses are inexpensive, informative, and can be completed in a short amount of time.

The right tools and training are the first step to giving your employees the attention and care needed to spot and address mental health issues.

Being able to know the signs-- and direct the employee to professional counseling and mental health professionals-- may help the employee avoid irreversible outcomes, thereby building the positive mental health of your overall workforce. 

Spotting indicators of an employee struggling with a mental health crisis takes skill and insight. Read on to know what to look for.

8 Mental Health Signs to Look for in Employees

Mental health issues can lead to significant disturbances in thinking, and emotional regulation, and be indicative of changes in behavior. Here are a few easy-to-ascertain indicators that may alert you that it’s time to assist an employee in seeking mental health support. 

1.  Absenteeism

Absenteeism and consistent lateness can be indicators of depression or underlying mental health issues.

Workplace stress can exacerbate mental health issues and make it difficult to be productive at work. Effects of mental challenges on a person's physical health could range from body aches and weight gain to hypertension or diabetes and result in an employee taking more days off.

Be alert if you notice increased absenteeism in an employee. 

Providing flexible work arrangements, accommodating work hours, vacation time, and work-from-home options can show employees the company cares about their professionalism and overall mental health. Creating an environment where there’s no space to heal is the recipe for internal disaster.  

2. Constant involvement in conflicts

Employees showing an aggressive disposition may not always need incident reports or disciplinary actions. Some may be battling mental health issues and need a listening ear, caring managers, or mental health interventions.

An employee who is constantly in conflict with other employees, is emotionally and socially distant, or has heightened responses may be displaying signs of mental distress. An employee who may not normally have this disposition should cause a red flag and lead to a private conversation to investigate the underlying cause and help them get help if needed. 

3. Decrease in performance 

A tell-tale sign that an employee may be struggling mentally is a decrease in their daily performance. Issues such as procrastination, incomplete duties, and poor work quality may be attributed to the mental challenges the employee is facing. 

Not fulfilling performance targets, failure to complete work assignments, inability to meet crucial responsibilities, and overall decreased work productivity are also key indicators that a normally well-performing employee may be experiencing challenges.

Be sure to note and inquire about the issues with the employee in a professional, empathetic, and compassionate manner. The cause of disengagement and poor performance may vary, but it can also indicate mental health concerns that must be addressed.

4. Excessively sleepy or lethargic

Major sleep disruptions can be signs (and also the cause) of some mental health disorders. Trouble going and staying asleep and increased sleepiness and lethargy, are common in people with mental health issues who have a higher prevalence of sleep problems. 

If you notice an employee with unusual sleep habits such as falling asleep at their desk and the issue is enduring for a long time, it may be time to address the employee and assist them in seeking further mental health support. 

5. Mood swings and erratic behavior

Stress from mental health issues can lead to extreme mood swings and behavior that is out of the ordinary for an employee. Bursts of anger, bullying, and an out-of-character disposition can be various signs that an employee is struggling mentally. 

Openly expressing concern and giving the employee resources such as workshops, courses, or referrals to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), can promote supportive mental health practices and help an employee work through mental health issues. 

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6. Shift in physical appearance

A lack of motivation to put forth effort in their physical appearance is another sign an employee may need intervention. If an employee is appearing with ungroomed hair, disheveled or unkempt clothing, or hygiene issues, take it as a good indication more is going on. 

The employee’s capacity or drive to care for their physical appearance might be impacted by mental health challenges. Do not disregard the physical signs that something deeper is going on inside. 

7. Trouble making decisions

Anxiety and depression can cause rapid decision fatigue, lowering the quality of work and increasing workplace withdrawal. Even simple decisions may be hard to find resolutions to and can lead to agitation and behavior changes. 

Direct managers should regularly check in with their staff one-on-one. Make sure your personnel is aware that you are there to support them and that there are no negative repercussions for opening up about mental struggles. 

8. High staff turnover

Poor management, along with a negative work environment, is the leading cause of high turnover. Both have a detrimental impact on an employee’s personal and professional life. 

Employees with mental health concerns like burnout may resign if they believe their work situation will not improve.

Before an employee leaves, managers should be aware of what’s going on and why they plan to leave. Many senior managers and human resources departments use exit interviews to detect underlying workplace issues since respondents are encouraged to be honest without fear of retaliation.

Creating a mental wellness culture

If you notice a coworker's behavior or performance shifting, inquire about their well-being. The key to creating an environment where inquiring about overall well-being is comfortable and acceptable is to have a strategy and proper training.

Since mental health issues are distinct from other performance-related problems, a unique strategy is required. Having a strategy and educated approach before approaching the employee is key and achieved through workplace mental health training. 

It's critical to get expert advice before issues arise and you are tasked with professionally handling them. As a leader, getting the proper training makes you a strong asset to the company, and especially, to your employees.  

Always remember to not judge an employee with a mental health challenge and keep any conversations you have confidential. It's critical to give your employee the flexibility and space to express themselves and speak freely.

Creating a positive mental health work culture is the first step to cultivating a trusting relationship free of judgment. This will make your role easier as you demonstrate care and concern for your employees and foster a forward-thinking workplace culture that promotes good mental wellness.


When signs of mental health challenges are noticed, don’t neglect, or ignore them out of discomfort. Instead, take the necessary training and be ready to sympathetically confront and work with employees in a confidential setting.

While this is a big responsibility, employees devote a large portion of their daily lives to working and being at work. Creating a culture where employees can work and heal is a positive forward movement in having a mentally well-- and thereby, productive-- workforce. 

key takeaways:

  • Ask how you might help the person in obtaining support and care
  • Do not leave the person alone if you are concerned about their immediate safety
  • Seek immediate aid 

Can you spot employee mental health concerns?

Mike Veny can teach you how to create a positive mental wellness culture

Search Mike Veny, Inc. courses

Last updated: 31 Jan 2023
Mike Veny
Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist® & leading mental health speaker

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