I'm not doing very well at work

It's good that you're here. We all have difficult times in life. If your situation at work is affected, there’s not one but two obstacles to talking about your troubles. These conversation tips will help.

The term «Burnout» is doing the rounds, and rightly so. We have to talk about mental problems in the workplace – and the sooner, the better for all concerned. You may be affected by burn-out if you are dedicated to your work to an above-average extent, and you expect a great deal of yourself. If you have noticed any of the following things about yourself for weeks or even months:

  • you're nervous, irritable and touchy, often getting into arguments
  • you can no longer "switch off" in your spare time and you have trouble sleeping
  • everything is piling up and getting on top of you
  • you are less focused and more forgetful
  • you are consuming more stimulants or more substances to calm you down than you used to

Then it is time to take action.


Talking helps

If your colleagues and your line managers are familiar with your situation, they will be able to interpret your altered behaviour correctly. And that will bring you support and relief. The sooner you talk to them about the situation, the easier it will be for tension to subside.

Your circle of family and friends is the place to start

The first person to talk to about your situation is a friend or family member, somebody you're important to, somebody you trust. You may find our conversation tips for friends and family useful.

It takes a lot of effort to talk about your troubles at work

Not every business has an open, supportive conversation culture, especially when it comes to mental problems. The following discussion hints will help you to find out who you can talk to within the company, if anybody, or whether it would be better to talk to someone outside it.

If you are already receiving treatment, discuss the following questions with your therapist or doctor: Is it helpful in your situation to talk to your boss and your team? What's the best way forward? You might conceivably invite your therapist or doctor to take part in a discussion with your line managers.

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«I took the step of approaching my manager and tell him, that I am not well. They understood quite well and supported me.»

Michael's Story

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«Looking after your mental health is central for running your business.»

Small business owners talk about their challenges

Start a conversation

Test your line manager

Do you find it hard to judge how your boss will react to your health issues? Start the experiment by thinking aloud about possible explanations:

I've often been dog-tired lately. Sometimes it affects my motivation. I've been wondering whether it's my eyes that are making me so tired. Perhaps I need (new) glasses.

I've often been tired lately. A friend of mine who was always exhausted turned out to be anaemic. But it may be mental too.

Your line manager's reaction will tell you what he thinks of mental stress. If his tone, facial expression and responses are neutral or perhaps even supportive, that's the green light for a more in-depth discussion.

Alternative people to talk to

If your boss responds negatively or plays down a possible mental cause, you should approach somebody else – perhaps someone you trust in the HR department or a fellow team member. You can also seek advice from outside your workplace on how best to proceed.

Pick a suitable location

The conversation should take place at a location where you won't be disturbed. Arranging to meet in the office isn't always a good idea. You could suggest an informal meeting, maybe at a café before starting work in the morning, or after work in a nearby park.

Pick a suitable time.

An in-depth conversation takes time, so don't just drop in on your boss if either of you has to be somewhere in ten minutes' time. Suggest a time when you know that neither of you has any important upcoming meetings. Having a meal together is a good opportunity.

I'd like to have a quiet word with you about a personal matter. Would mid-day on Friday be a good time? Shall we have lunch together?

Conversation tips

Your colleagues may be keeping quiet out of uncertainty

Have you been wondering why neither your boss nor any of your colleagues has noticed that you're overstressed? The reason for that is usually not lack of interest. Many people are afraid that you might find it offensive if they raised possible problems with you. Or they may simply not know how to start the conversation. The person concerned may have the same problem as you.

You will make it easier for your boss if you start the conversation yourself

Talk about your feelings, and try to tell them what might help you. That will give your boss and your team a chance of understanding your problem, making it possible to find solutions.

What not to mention

If illness renders somebody no longer able to meet requirements in the workplace, this is grounds for termination. Information about an addiction or medicines may be delicate, for example, if these impair workplace safety.

Are you unsure how open you can be with your employer? Pro Mente Sana will advise you on legal questions. Check out our addresses and services.

The conversation

You might start like this:

I haven't been feeling good lately. I'm afraid it's affecting my work. Can we talk about it?

I have problems at home, and I'm bringing them with me when I come to work. Can I talk to you about it?

I'm not performing as I'd like to at the moment. Can I talk to you about it?

Take responsibility for yourself and your duties

It does nobody any good if you work until you drop! Indicating that everything is getting on top of you and you need help is a sign of strength. You can interpret it like this: you are taking responsibility and acting proactively.

I can't switch off in the evenings like I used to, and I'm not sleeping at all well. I've noticed that this is restricting me during the day. I'm not performing as well as I'd like to at the moment.

I'm very depressed about the divorce. I think about it at work, and it makes me unfocused and irritable. Might you and I have a look at how the situation at work could be improved?

The additional file takes a great deal of time. I can't see past the end of my nose at the moment. It's stressing me out. I'm not sleeping at all well, and that makes it even harder. I'd like to find a solution and break the vicious circle.

Contribute to the solution

Your boss can't solve your problems at the press of a button either. But even little things can bring relief: a postponed deadline, an extra internship, help with finding the right specialist. If you know what would help you, don't keep it to yourself. It will help the other person to know how they can support you.

Clarify priorities and expectations with your line managers

If you talk to your line manager, they will be concerned for your welfare – but will also consider the effects on your colleagues, the work of their teams and the general working atmosphere. Ask your line manager what his priorities are, and what he expects of you despite the stress you're under.

Transparency in the team helps

Your team is very likely to have picked up on the fact that you're not doing well. Here, too, openness makes understanding possible. You don't need to disclose any private details. If possible, talk to your boss about what to tell your team. You might say:

I'm sorry, I know I've often been irritable lately. It has nothing to do with you. My relationship is on a roller coaster at the moment.

I'm not doing very well at the moment. You may have sensed it. I've talked to the boss about it, and we're working on a solution.

I'm not in great shape at the moment. I'd really appreciate it if you could be patient with me. It has nothing to do with you.

After the conversation

Keep talking

It's to be hoped that the first conversation brought you some relief, but as a rule problems aren't resolved just by talking about them. Arrange follow-up meetings with your boss to discuss whether you're improving, as hoped, or other measures are necessary.

Outside help is sometimes required

If things haven't improved for you after a while, you should seek help from a specialist. Stress may have made you ill. The sooner you seek professional help, the quicker you'll be back to normal.

Mental health in the workplace

Our brochure has more to say on the subject, for example about what you can do if you're seriously ill.

Strengthen your defences

You can strengthen your mental health, mobilizing your natural defences against stress. Possible stimuli for you:

Psyche stärken in Corona-Zeiten