by | Jan 21, 2020

Last month I facilitated a workshop for 50 managers and staff about workplace well-being. 

We focused on strategies that we can use to help ourselves and others around us, when things go wrong and we experience problems with our mental health.

As part of the session I introduced some case -studies. I’d brought with me examples of how people’s lives can unravel, for various reasons. I split the group into 5 teams and each team focused on a case-study. 

I asked the teams to think about what steps they could take as a colleague, and what steps they could take as a manager, to support the person in their case-study? 

Here is one of the case-studies we considered;


Clive is the Caretaker and he has been working for the company for 15 years. Last year his wife died after a long illness. Recently Clive has taken to mostly sitting in his office during the day, when in the past he would spend time chatting to staff and walking about the place. He has also been seen sitting in his car after he’s arrived on site, even after he’s turned off his engine. Last week a member of staff told you that they saw him in the local supermarket and commented to you that his trolley had a lot of bottles of alcohol in it. He was off work recently with a bad back and on his return, he was assigned light duties, because he complained about being in constant pain.’

Workplace Strategies

After careful consideration, the group that was looking at this case-study decided that they should;

  • Ask ‘how are you, Clive?’
  • Not make assumptions about Clive
  • Inform their manager
  • Listen to what he had to say
  • Ask ‘what can I do to help?’
  • Use the phrase ‘I’ve noticed that’ to open the conversation
  • Not be too formal, instead invite Clive to have a chat and a cuppa
  • Be flexible in their approach
  • Check for any trends and patterns and for things that have happened before
  • Review Clive’s workload
  • Put in support measures around the workplace
  • Take their time with Clive
  • Inform HR
  • Keep checking -in and follow up

Overall, each team showed compassion, empathy and respect as they considered their own case studies. They discussed as a team what they could put forward as workplace strategies, and they showed that they cared.

The Reality 

The thing is, the case-studies I used for this workshop were based on real life events that have happened in the places I have worked. In my 30-plus years as a HR professional, I have encountered a lot of people, who’ve had a lot of stuff going on for them.

By the time I met with Clive (not his real name), he was in a very low mood and had been off work for a few weeks. He was disheartened with life and had considered suicide. The death of his wife and the fact that his son lived far away, meant that he was lonely and fragile. He told me that after his wife died, friends and family called and visited frequently and made sure that he had food to eat. They asked him along to things and let him join in their lives. Unfortunately, this dropped off and people assumed he was ok, and that life would soon get back to normal. They assumed that he had his work to keep him busy. 

He said to me ‘there is no normal now’. 

We talked, and he cried, and we agreed to meet again in a few days’ time. I contacted the occupational health team for their advice, and we arranged for workplace counselling for Clive. I spoke to his manager and we agreed a plan for support. 

Clive returned to work on a phased return and he regularly went to see his counsellor. 

His colleagues asked him how he was every day. They made sure he ate lunch and they asked him to join them in social events. He started to behave more like his old self. He got the help and support he needed. 

We got there in time.

Clive and others who are experiencing mental health problems just need you to notice the changes, which may be subtle. They need you to have the confidence to ask how they are, and they need you to take the time to listen. 

If you do well by them, they will do well by you. 

For further information about workplace well-being strategies, training and HR support contact [email protected]

Vanessa is a very experienced HR Professional with a career spanning over 30 years. Prior to setting up Imago HR she worked for many years as a senior HR leader, providing a compassionate and pragmatic approach to people management. Click on her website to find out more about the Imago HR service