How to encourage help-seeking behaviour at your startup

Studies show one in four people in the UK are struggling with their mental health, with the most common complaint employee assistance programme providers receive being about stress.

Mental health problems come about for lots of reasons and present in many different ways. What’s universal is that most of us spend a huge amount of our lives at work, meaning mental health is something workplaces are well-positioned to help with and should.

There are many ways to support employee mental health, with myriad tools, platforms, and solutions at employers’ disposal. 

But I’d argue that there’s one simple framework through which companies should think about mental health support for staff: how can I encourage proactive help-seeking behaviour in my team?

Help-seeking behaviour is exactly what it sounds like: it’s about encouraging people to seek support for mental health issues when they arise (and ideally before they reach crisis point), when they are easier to track and deal with. Studies show that help-seeking interventions are effective at destigmatising mental health support in adults, with stigma being one of the most common deterrents preventing people from reaching out. Nurturing help-seeking behaviour could have a significant positive impact on the wellbeing and productivity of your team.

Mental health support is never one-size-fits-all. But there are a few things startups can do to encourage a culture of help-seeking. Here’s how.

Lead by example

Mental health takes many forms and is a spectrum, just like physical health. We will all struggle in different ways and to varying degrees at different times in our lives. 

As a leader, the best thing you can do is be open and signal to your team that you really do get it and you care by showing good mental health hygiene practices and help-seeking behaviour yourself. To encourage help-seeking, you need to inspire an open dialogue about mental health in your workplace and be seen to take steps in prioritising your own mental health. 

Mental health is personal, and not everyone will want to share (coming back to the stigma point). But should people feel they are struggling and want to talk, you can help create an environment that fosters this open communication by leading by example: if managers are open about when they’ve felt anxious, low, or burnt out, and how they sought help, including proactively taking time off and communicating why, staff are more likely to feel comfortable seeking help, too. 

Sharing experiences and addressing the reality of mental health at work is a powerful way to destigmatise struggles and normalise help-seeking. 

Improve mental health literacy 

Initiatives that help people better understand their own wellbeing can go a long way to improve mental health literacy and inspire help-seeking. These can take many forms: from giving employees access to digital mental health resources, to introducing tools which enable staff to accurately track and monitor their mental health. 

Using tools like thymia helios, employees can complete quick daily mental wellness checks to spot changes in stress, tiredness, and burnout. Studies show regular remote management can significantly improve self-regulation and proactive interventions.

It’s also important to improve mental health literacy among your managers. Mental health problems are notoriously difficult to spot, but training managers to be able to be alert to changes can make a big difference. One of the most effective examples of successful EAP uptake has been found in companies where managers can effectively triage their line managees.

Train managers how to broach conversations around mental health sensitively. They should also know when and how to escalate situations they are worried about, and what they can offer to staff who’d like additional support or coaching.  

You could also look to explore mental health first aid training for key team members through organisations like Mind and St Johns Ambulance, so other staff members know exactly who to turn to if they require help.

Tailor mental health support to employees' specific needs 

There’s little value in paying for mental health support that doesn’t address employees’ specific needs. To encourage help-seeking, get to know exactly what employees are struggling with, and provide solutions that genuinely help. 

Anonymised insights from mental health monitoring technology, or regular pulse check surveys, can be a useful way to get to know what’s going on with your team. 

Based on what you uncover, you could look to offer counselling services, financial coaching, stress management or mindfulness support, or new working arrangements to help staff achieve a better work-life balance. There are many EAP providers and mental health-focused companies who can help your employees, but knowing exactly what problems your particular team struggles with will help you identify the right fit. 

Check in with your team regularly to identify changes in what’s needed, gather feedback on what’s currently on offer, and ensure you’re investing in the right interventions to drive engagement.

Signpost support clearly 

Employees aren’t going to seek help if they don’t know where it is. So, it’s important to clearly signpost what’s available to staff so they know where to go if they’re struggling: you’d be surprised at how many organisations fall down at this simple hurdle. 

Once you’ve decided which mental health initiatives and tools to introduce, communicate them effectively through internal company comms, team meetings and in one-to-ones to ensure staff are aware of what’s on offer. Don’t just stop at one announcement - regular reminders throughout the quarter will encourage staff to make the most of the support available. People have a tendency to forget about things when they don’t need them, so reminding them frequently means you’re more likely to catch someone with a reminder when they most need it.

Encouraging mental health help-seeking behaviour at your startup should be a top priority when trying to create the best environment for your employees to thrive in. 

You want to be able to step in in times of crisis; but you also want your workforce to feel safe and empowered to take steps to protect their mental health before they reach breaking point.