How a supervisor promotes mental health at the workplace

Your behaviour decides how your employees perceive your efforts to promote their mental health. As a supervisor, you do not need to know how to solve the problem, let alone become a doctor or psychologist. But it is important for you to know how to bring up possible problems and recognise situations where external help is required.

Build understanding of the working conditions and the employees

You can only promote your employees’ mental health when you understand them and the work they do. By doing that, you also comply with the law, as employers are required by law to evaluate the workload and adapt it to meet the employees’ capabilities. In your workplace’s daily life, you, the supervisor, represent the employer.

How well you promote your employees’ mental health depends on how you behave. Your employees see your behaviour, above all, in what you talk about with them and how.

The list below shows you what you should focus on to be able to promote your employees’ mental health at your workplace.


Supervisor’s checklist for promoting mental health at the workplace

Content of work and working conditions

  • What work do our employees perform? 
  • With whom?
  • With what tools?
  • Does the employees' perception of the above match mine?

Work goal, division of work and roles

  • Are the work goals, the division of work and roles clear to everyone?
  • Do we all share more or less the same understanding regarding these?
  • Do we have unspoken, hidden agendas or roles or expectations regarding work?
  • Are our goals in conflict with the expectations of our customers or other parties?

Psychosocial workload

  • Which working conditions are potential stressors?
  • Are these stressors an integral part of the job profile?
  • How can workload be reduced or managed?
  • How can we increase the resources of work?
  • What non-work stressors do my employees have?

Job control and resources

  • What opportunities do my employees have to manage their workload and work pace?
  • Are these stressors an integral part of the job profile? How can workload be reduced or managed?
  • How can we increase the resources of work?
  • What non-work stressors do my employees have?

My workplace’s operating models and guidelines

  • Do we have an early support model in place? Do I know how to use it?
  • How could I improve my skills in bringing up issues?
  • Do I know in which situations early support is needed?
  • Do we have guidelines for work accommodation?
  • To what extent am I authorised to agree on work accommodation?


  • Have I talked to each of my employees recently?
  • Do I know how my employees are doing?
  • Have I remembered to give and ask for feedback?
  • How often do I give and ask for feedback?

Successful interaction is everyday mental health care

View the promotion of mental health as something that is part of your daily work and how you lead your employees. You build the foundation for promoting mental health by ensuring that the work can flow smoothly, your interaction with your employees works well, you trust your employees and they trust you and you all bear responsibility both individually and collectively.

Avoid the happiness illusion i.e. that the atmosphere must always be positive, there is no room for failure and everything must go smoothly. Unpleasant experiences and the accompanying thoughts and feelings are natural. Recognise and embrace them and discuss them constructively. Through your own actions, make it easier for your employees to identify and address adversities and to talk about them with you and also with one another. This is valuable everyday mental health care.

Encouraging feedback plays an important role. It is equally important to make dealing with constructive feedback an everyday occurrence. It all comes down to you knowing how your employees are doing and what their situation is. You can only make this happen by talking to them regularly.


Facing mental health issues at the workplace

As the employer’s representative, you have the obligation to take care of your employees’ health and safety at the workplace. If you become concerned, it is your duty to talk to your employee. If re-arranging their work would help solve the problem, do so. It’s better to accommodate their work too soon rather than too late. When you and your employees make it a habit to make adjustments in their work in a flexible way, it will not be seen as labelling or something to feel uncomfortable or ashamed about. This will, in turn, encourage your employees to talk about their situation before it gets bad.

You are likely to recognise the obvious signs of impaired work ability, such as absences due to illness. But if you wait until your employee starts being absent from work due to problems with coping and psychological symptoms before you start discussing the issue with them, you take the risk that the discussion will not lead to a good outcome for either of you. Your employee may not have the energy to agree on work accommodation, they may feel anxious about the discussion or take it too seriously.

Therefore, you should initiate the discussions at a low threshold. It is much better for you to hold discussions where your concern proves to be unfounded than to not hold discussions when they are needed. Encourage your employees to voice their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Ask them how they are doing. On the other hand, also remember to respect your employees’ privacy and accept that not everyone wants to disclose their personal matters or situation.

You can best promote mental health by having the same attitude towards mental health as towards health in general. Mental disorders affect the functional capacity, but they can be treated in many cases. Especially if the symptom or situation is short-lived, it is not a good idea to make too big a fuss about it. Also pay attention to how people talk about mental health in general at your workplace. When everyone sees it as just one aspect of health, people find it easy to talk about mental health without the fear of being labelled.

Read more about how you can benefit from early support activities

Did you know?

A successful return to work after sick leave due to mental health issues is more likely when accommodations have been carried out at the workplace. As a supervisor, you play a crucial role in implementing and supporting these accommodations.