Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44 with more than eight deaths by suicide and a further 180 suicide attempts every day. Suicide rates are at the highest they have been for ten years so it’s even more important than ever to be having meaningful conversations particularly if you notice that someone may be struggling.

Most adults spend around one third of their waking hours at work so workplaces can play a pivotal role in providing key health information and intervening if an employee is struggling with mental health or if they are having suicidal thoughts. 

Many people who die by suicide show warning signs. As a manager you are in a unique position to be able to identify when a member of your team is struggling so knowing what to look out for and where to find help if it is needed is crucial. While managers may feel overwhelmed by the perceived responsibility it brings, it is important to remember that there is professional help available.

Here are some useful tips on identifying when and how to have a conversation with an employee;

1.     Know Your Team

Ensure that you maintain regular contact with your team and get to know your employees. Greet them, have interactions with them. This helps develop important connections but you will then also be in a position to notice if there are any changes in their behaviour, for example, withdrawal, irritability, unexplained absences or a drop in performance at work. Such changes may be indicators that the employee is going through some emotional difficulty and finding it hard to manage.

2.     Have a Conversation if You are Concerned

A simple conversation will clarify your concerns with the employee and may be a first step to helping them find support. Make sure the conversation occurs in a discrete and private place. Be clear that you are concerned. Give specific examples. Ask “Are you okay?”

“Is something happening?” “Can I do anything to help?”

3.     Listen

Listen to what the person is saying without interrupting. At the end, summarise what you have heard to check that your understanding is correct. Do not make judgements or assumptions about what they have said. If you’re unsure about any comments they have made, clarify with an open question.

4.     Explore Options

The employee may indicate that there are issues at work or issues that could be helped by making some changes at work. In that case, you may wish to explore specific solutions. Do not go into problem-solving about personal issues. Remember you are their manager and not their counsellor. Offer empathy, but at the same time, know when to stop and offer professional help.

5.     Know when to Escalate

If an employee makes any hint about suicide, ask them directly “Are you thinking about harming yourself?” Unless the answer is a direct and clear “No”, immediately escalate to another person for advice. Your options may include:

  • ·     An existing support person, for example, their GP or family member
  • ·     EAP Manager Support Hotline
  • ·     Local hospital if it’s an emergency