Throughout the month of October, Australia recognises the importance of mental health awareness, with World Mental Health Day having occurred last week.
Heads Up, an organisation developed by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and beyondblue, found that mentally healthy workplaces are as important to Australian employees as physically safe ones. However, workplaces are not found to be meeting these expectations.
In addition, a recent survey by law firm MinterEllison found that almost three-quarters of Australian workplaces have no formal policy or procedure for managing staff mental health issues.
A mentally unhealthy workplace can negatively affect not only staff but also the business – Heads Up quote that 45 percent of Australians between the ages of 16-85 will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, while it is estimated that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year. This comprises $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims, the organisation says.
By comparison, Heads Up’s research shows that employees of a mentally healthy workplace report taking much less time off due to feeling mentally unwell – 13 percent compared to 46 percent of those in mentally unhealthy workplaces. Mentally healthy workplaces can also result in higher staff productivity and a lower turnover rate.
Implementing policy can be the crucial change for improving workplace mental health, and it does not need to come at a cost. There are many free methods, however if money is spent, every dollar that a business invests in effective mental health initiatives, it receives an average return of $2.30, according to an analysis by PwC. Actions that can be taken include:
- Communicating with employees regularly about issues affecting them and the business
- Encouraging a workplace culture where employees support each other and diversity is valued
- Facilitating open communication when problems arise
- Offering flexible working arrangements
- Providing access to counselling services and/or specialist support groups
- Ensuring appropriately timed and regular breaks
- Offering support to discuss concerns, workload and challenges, and
- Providing training on managing difficult situations.
For a full list of actions that can be taken, and for an action plan checklist, click here.
AccessEAP, a corporate psychology organisation which supports and develops positive organisational behaviour, encourages employees to also play a role in forming a mentally healthy workplace by supporting others and doing their part to take care of their own mental health.
“Good mental health can be achieved through exercise, stepping away from the computer for a walk, diet, meditation, time management and discussing concerns with management,” says Sally Kirkright, CEO of AccessEAP.
“If employees believe their organisation is taking a back seat approach to assisting staff with mental health concerns, they should make it known to management. Contributing ideas and making a mentally healthy workplace part of the daily norm is in everyone’s best interest.”
AccessEAP offers some tips for helping to maintain mental health, both within the workplace and on a personal level:
- Get to know your colleagues and take the time to talk to them.
- Considering we spend most of the day with our colleagues, we should be able to recognise if there is a change in their mood or behaviour. Whether they are just having a bad day or it is something more serious, having a conversation with a colleague can help them open up and if necessary, seek support.
- Understand the signs of mental health to help to keep yourself in check and recognise if someone is going through a tough time.
- Manage stress levels. Stress is a part of everyday life, but when stress is prolonged, it can lead to depression and anxiety. Understanding your main triggers in the workplace and working with a manager to address them can help to manage this.
- Maintain a work-life balance that includes taking regular breaks, speaking up if you are feeling overwhelmed, attending social activities, eating well, regular exercise and getting a good night’s sleep each night.
- Disclosing a mental health condition to your employer is very much a personal choice. However, having an open discussion with your employer can lead to them making adjustments that allow you to continue to work productively and it may help improve your health, especially if you are going through a tough time. This may include flexible hours and/or reduction in tasks for a time period.