Time to Talk Day 2023 – Creating the right environment for supportive conversations

Matt Bentall
Matt Bentall

Head of Programmes at The Lord Mayor's Appeal

Time to Talk Day 2023 is on 2nd February. This is an annual event that encourages all of us to make space in our day for a conversation about mental health. Here, Matt Bentall, Head of Programmes at The Lord Mayor’s Appeal explores why talking about wellbeing is important in the workplace, and how businesses of all sizes can create a supportive culture around mental health.


Time to Talk day is ten years old. It is safe to say a lot has happened in the world since then, not all of it brilliant, but one constant has been the power of conversation. Conversations start friendships, they secure jobs, they allow us to laugh, to learn and they help people. Talking is the foundation of all connections and communities.

Time to Talk day aims to create supportive communities, families and workplaces through conversations around mental health. When we speak of mental health, we tend to focus on the negative, but rather like physical health, our mental health operates on a spectrum, it can be good or poor, improving or declining and we can take action to support it.

It is through conversation that we can challenge stereotypes

The way we view and speak about mental health has improved in recent years with younger generations in particular, more confident in articulating how they feel. That said, stigma still exists for a variety of reasons. Portrayal in the media/fiction, generational stereotypes, self-stigma and the role of social media mean that we are on a journey. It is through conversation​How can you have the right conversation to support an employee at work? PDF As a line manager, it’s important to recognise how to manage the emotional wellbeing of employees at work. This two-page guide from Nuffield Health explores five key steps to help staff move from emotionally barely surviving back to thriving.Free By: Nuffield Health View resource that we can challenge stereotypes, help people to appreciate their own mental health and create connections that support one another.

That is not to say that conversations are always easy. How do you move a conversation from ‘how was your weekend’, to ‘how are you doing?’ and is it always right to do so? The short answer is yes, you should never shy away from asking how someone is and if you aren’t convinced by the first answer, ask them again. You are not going to cause harm by asking the question, but you could start someone on a journey to a place of better mental health. That has to be worth any awkwardness.

Colleagues share a smile

The big challenge for us all is knowing how to create the right environment for open and supportive conversations. The good news is, that there is a lot that can be done that is quick and easy to implement. It is often these first steps that are overlooked – but creating an internal culture that allows employees to be open about all aspects of their wellbeing is crucial. In doing so we create an environment where training and other interventions are best placed to be as impactful as possible.

At The Lord Mayor’s Appeal, our This is Me​This is Me Web page This is Me is a business-led campaign to support organisations, and their employees, to talk about mental health. It encourages people with experience of a mental health problem, whether their own or of a loved one, to share their stories.Free By: The Lord Mayor’s Appeal View resource initiative is free to access and provides a wealth of help and support for organisations alongside the simple things they can do themselves. Register here to access our resource hub and free wellbeing in the workplace training developed by the Samaritans.

Joining the This is Me initiative and using the power of storytelling in your organisation will help you work towards the Mental Health at Work Commitments​The Mental Health at Work Commitment introduction guide PDF This PDF guide, created by the Mental Health at Work team, explains more about what the Commitment is, how to sign up, and what to do next.Free By: Mental Health at Work (website) View resource, particularly Commitment 3 which is all about promoting an open culture and empowering employees to champion mental health and be a positive role model in the workplace.

Find somewhere quiet and relaxed

When approaching a conversation, ensure it is in a neutral space. If you treat it like a work conversation, so will the person you are talking to. Instead of the same old meeting room, find somewhere quiet, relaxed or an environment that creates a disconnect from your roles. Some of my best conversations with staff have happened whilst walking around a museum, or sat by a food truck.

To let them know you are open to a conversation, the Green Ribbon Campaign is a visible movement of support for workplaces, with wearers of the ribbon showing solidarity with those who are struggling and a willingness to speak to others about their mental health. When encouraging people to speak up, ensure they are free to do so whenever is best for them. If you want them to talk to you today, then you must be ready for them to talk to you at month end or other busy times when their wellbeing may naturally be more vulnerable.

Two men have a private work meeting.

The best conversations happen when someone is ready, whilst forcing someone to speak is likely to generate half truths and may discourage the individual from speaking up in the future. Instead, focus on building a rapport and a feeling of security. The simple act of giving your time to someone through conversation will build trust, connections and may have a positive effect upon their mood in itself, regardless of the topics covered. This article is of course designed to consider our typical day-to-day interactions. If you have reason to believe that intervention is needed​How to spot the signs of a potential mental health issue PDF This one-page PDF from Nuffield Health suggests some warning signs to look out for that could indicate someone is experiencing poor mental or emotional wellbeing.Free By: Nuffield Health View resource in the interest of someone’s immediate safety then act accordingly and don’t be afraid to ask them if they are considering harming themselves​Responding to suicide risk in the workplace: A guide for people professionals Web page This guide can help you to feel confident talking about suicide in your organisation, develop policies aimed at preventing suicide, and support your staff if they are bereaved by the suicide of a colleague. Free By: CIPD View resource.

Consider telling your own story

For business leaders, consider telling your own story. Storytelling empowers organisations to encourage their employees to open the conversation around mental health by sharing their personal experiences. That shared empathy and vulnerability can be the catalyst to allow others to speak up.

For organisations with limited resources, it can be easy to be drawn into costly commitments that may or may not benefit your staff. We know that good physical health​Guide to physical health PDF Feeling good involves taking care of our physical as well as emotional health. This guide has tips on being physically active, musculoskeletal support, the working environment and health assessments.Free By: RBS Group View resource can boost mental health, but will pulling staff that are already stressed away from their desks for a fitness class do more harm than good? Likewise internal bonus points programmes, will the kudos from colleagues be a boost, or will you instead simply create a mini Eurovision, with desk-neighbours religiously voting for one another with little tangible results other than a cost to the business?

An employee sits alone while her colleagues sit together.

That is not to say these ideas are without merit, but we must walk before we can run. Start first with your workplace policies and ensure they provide adequate space and recognition for mental wellbeing as a standalone concern. Take advantage of the fantastic wealth of free resources that are on offer through the likes of Mind, Rethink and via The Lord Mayor’s Appeal Hub.

When asked to put this article together I reflected on all the conversations that have shaped my journey to date, those that allowed me to help others and those that I wish I had had sooner. There is never a perfect time to have a conversation, but there is a point at which it arrives too late. This Time to Talk day, have a chat, with anyone, about anything, who knows where it might lead.

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