Supporting Employees with Bipolar at Work

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What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder – often referred to as manic depression – is a mental health condition noted by the extreme mood swings and change in energy levels that can be exhibited. These abrupt changes in mood can range from high episodes (mania or hypomania) to low periods (depression), mixed with periods of normal mood.  

In the workplace, these fluctuations in mood can present unique challenges for those managing bipolar. During times of mania, an individual may experience increased energy levels, reduced need for sleep, and hyperactivity. They may feel able to take on multiple projects or tasks and have racing thoughts, which can later result in feelings of disorganisation and a lack of focus.

Bipoloar Disorder

On the other hand, during depressive episodes individuals may have trouble getting out of bed, due to low levels of energy, struggle with decision-making, and experience a significant decrease in productivity. 

Understanding bipolar disorder is key when it comes to creating an inclusive and supportive work environment. When it comes to bipolar disorder, it’s not a matter of ‘one size fits all’ — the severity, frequency of mood swings, and the impact on functioning can vary greatly from person to person. In the context of the workplace, employers may find that only some employees need adjustments or support during episodes, while others may function well with little to no intervention. 

Supporting employees with bipolar at work starts with ensuring you understand the disorder itself. By utilising empathy and open communication, businesses can ensure a balanced and productive work environment for all employees, regardless of their mental health status. In order to create a more inclusive and supportive workplace for all, it’s essential for businesses to provide mental health and wellbeing training for all employees. 

Myth-busting Bipolar Disorder

When discussing bipolar disorder, misconceptions will often enter the conversation. These misconceptions can prove to be harmful, contributing to the stigma and misunderstanding that already surrounds bipolar disorder. It’s important to sort the facts from the fiction, especially when it comes to understanding and supporting employees with bipolar disorder at work. 

Myth: People with bipolar disorder can’t hold a job. 

Fact: With adequate support and reasonable adjustments, many individuals with bipolar disorder are fully capable of maintaining successful careers.

Myth: Mood swings are the only symptom of bipolar disorder.

Fact: While mood swings are a significant symptom, other symptoms can occur including disrupted sleep patterns, frequent changes in energy levels, and challenges with focus. 

Myth: Bipolar disorder means constantly shifting between extreme happiness and sadness.

Fact: Bipolar disorder does involve spans of mania and depressive episodes; however, it is not as simple as just changing between feelings of happiness and sadness. During manic episodes, individuals can experience feelings of grandiosity and high levels of impulsivity. Whereas during depressive episodes, individuals can struggle with feelings of hopelessness and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities that they enjoyed beforehand. 

Myth: Bipolar disorder is a rare condition.

Fact: Bipolar disorder affects about 2% of the population, meaning it’s more common than many people may realise. 

Myth: Bipolar disorder is a result of a weak character or poor upbringing.

Fact: Bipolar disorder is a recognised medical condition, not a result of a character flaw or upbringing. Bipolar disorder is caused by a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors. 

Understanding and recognising these myths and the realities is the first step in supporting employees with bipolar disorder. Understanding leads to empathy, contributing to a healthier and more supportive workplace environment. It is important to remember that everyone’s experience with bipolar disorder is unique, and what may work for one person may not work for another. It’s essential to maintain an open dialogue and ensure the necessary support is in place. 

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Supporting Employees Experiencing Mania & Not Rewarding Overworking

Bipolar disorder can present unique challenges within the workplace, particularly during episodes of mania. These episodes, defined by instances of high energy, reduced need for sleep, and heightened creativity, might initially appear a positive thing. However, it’s crucial to recognise and understand that this is part of a person’s bipolar disorder, and to not inadvertently reward these behaviours, as it may lead to overworking. 

Manic episodes can result in an individual working excessively, often to the detriment of their personal life and physical wellbeing. As an employer, it’s important not to approve such behaviour, as it could encourage risky, unsustainable work habits. Instead, encourage a work culture that prioritises balance and recognise the importance of rest and downtime. 

Managers should communicate openly with employees about their condition and their needs – it is important to adopt the belief that discussing ‘bipolar at work’ isn’t a taboo. Employers should aim to provide a supportive environment where these conversations can take place without fear of judgement or repercussions. 

Should an employee be in a state of mania, adjusting their workload or providing flexible working hours may be beneficial in helping to manage the situation. It can also be advantageous to ensure that you and your team are familiar with the signs of mania, allowing for early intervention and support. 

In cases where an employee might resist assistance, fearing it may stifle their productivity or creativity, be sure to reassure them that the aim is not to suppress their abilities or ‘keep them down’ but rather to ensure their health and wellbeing. 

Supporting an employee with bipolar disorder is not just about managing episodes but also about encouraging an understanding workplace. This approach will not only benefit those with bipolar but will improve overall mental health and productivity levels within your organisation.  

Supporting Employees Experiencing Depression

Workplace depression is a prevalent issue, and it can have extensive implications, impact both productivity and overall employee well-being. With depression often also affecting individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder, understanding how to support employees experiencing depression is key. 

Creating an environment of open dialogue can encourage employees to reach out for help when they need it. It is important that we destigmatize mental health issues like depression and bipolar at work, by creating a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their experiences without fear of judgement or discrimination. 

Ensuring that managers and employees are educated about depression is another valuable and proactive step businesses can take. Consistent mental health training sessions can help employees be able to easily identify the signs of depression and guide the necessary steps to support an affected colleague. 

Providing comprehensive mental health resources, such as access to counselling services, can prove to be an invaluable resource for employees dealing with depression. Offering flexible working conditions, allowing time off for mental health, or making reasonable adjustments in workload can also contribute to their improved mental health. 

Maintaining confidentiality is top priority. Employees should feel safe in discussing their mental health without fear of their information being disclosed without their consent to other parties. 

Supporting employees experiencing depression in the workplace is not only a moral responsibility, it is also good for business. According to a report by the Mental Health Foundation, addressing wellbeing at work increases productivity by as much as 12%. 

By taking these steps, we can help create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for all employees, including those navigating challenges like depression and bipolar at work. 

Predictability and Routine

Supporting employees with bipolar disorder in the workplace can be made significantly easier by creating an environment of predictability and routine. For individuals managing bipolar at work, a stable routine can be a significant help when it comes to maintaining a balanced mood. 

Consistent Schedule: Maintain a consistent work schedule, with set work hours, lunch breaks, and deadlines for tasks. This aids in minimising unnecessary stress and assists in managing expectations. 

Clear Communication: Regular team meetings and open lines of communication can help provide employees with reassurances about job roles and expectations. Providing them with a clear understanding of their role can help reduce anxiety and enhance employee’s confidence at work. 

Flexible Accommodations: While maintaining a routine is key, it’s also important to understand that flexibility might sometimes be necessary. In such instances, offering options such as remote work or flexible hours can be beneficial. 

Structured Tasks: Break down larger tasks into manageable parts and establish a regular pattern of work. This can help employees with bipolar disorder focus and increase their productivity. 

Encourage Regular Breaks: Regular breaks can be a great way to alleviate stress and prevent burnout. Ensure employees have the time for short breaks throughout their workday. 

Support Network: Encourage a strong in-office support network. Having a network of colleagues who understand and support their condition can make the workplace more comfortable and provide a sense of stability. 

Fostering predictability and routine within the workplace can play a significant role in supporting employees with bipolar disorder. As a result, employees can perform optimally, improving overall productivity, and creating a healthier, more inclusive work environment. 


When it comes to supporting employees with bipolar disorder at work, compassion plays an essential role. Compassion is not just about feeling empathy; it is about understanding, patience, and a willingness to take positive action to alleviate feelings of discomfort or distress.  

In the context of bipolar disorder in the workplace, compassion involves acknowledging the challenges faced by employee’s navigating the high and low points of this condition. This entail’s creating an environment that encourages open dialogue, dispelling stigma and misconceptions regarding mental health.  

Encouraging a compassionate workplace starts from the top. Leaders’ attitudes towards mental health can have a significant impact on team dynamics. By cultivating a culture of empathy, leaders can set the tone for acceptance and understanding. Regular team meetings and workshops about mental health can nurture this culture, creating a sense of belonging and safety among employees. 

A compassionate approach can also include making necessary adjustments in order to accommodate the needs of employees with bipolar disorder. This could include flexible working hours, offering breaks during the day, or adapting the work environment to reduce stress. 

Similarly, compassionate support should extend beyond the workplace. Employers can do this by providing resources for mental health support, such as access to counselling services or mental health training programs. This not only assists the individual employee but also builds a more resilient, understanding, and ultimately more productive workforce. 

It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s experience with bipolar disorder is different. By nurturing compassion within the workplace, businesses can better support our colleagues with bipolar, creating an inclusive environment where every employee feels valued and understood. 

Co-creating Wellbeing Plans when Well

When we discuss supporting employees with bipolar disorder, one proactive and effective approach is creating a wellbeing plan with the employee during a period where they are in good health. This collaborative process allows for a tailored strategy that prioritises the individual’s mental wellbeing, whilst considering the demands and realities of their work environment. 

Proactive wellbeing planning can be a significant game-changer when it comes to managing bipolar at work. During periods of stability, employees are more likely to easily identify potential stressors and triggers, as well as effective coping strategies and necessary adjustments in the workplace. Detailed wellbeing plans should include early warning signs of a manic or depressive episode and the preferred steps to take in such scenarios. 

One key component of these wellbeing plans is regular check-ins. These check-ins can provide a valuable opportunity for both the employee and their line manager to discuss how the plan is working and make any needed adjustments. This communication can ensure that the employee feels supported and that the plan remains effective over time. 

It’s crucial to cultivate a workplace culture where mental health is openly discussed, and employees feel comfortable sharing their experiences and needs. Knowing that an employer is committed to their wellbeing can significantly improve the quality of life for someone managing bipolar disorder at work. 

Collaboration between employee and employer to create wellbeing plans during periods of good health is not just beneficial, but essential in supporting employees with bipolar disorder. It encourages a sense of empowerment, personalised support, and a proactive approach towards mental health in the workplace. 

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