There has been a subtle shift in how employers handle mental health in the workplace, but is it enough? One out of five Australian employees report that they have taken time off at work due to feeling mentally unwell. With the percentage of employees suffering from mental health condition increasing significantly, the initial responsibility lies with the employer to create a mindful workplace culture. While you think campaigns such as ‘R U OK?’ has destigmatised and normalised the discussion around mental health, studies show that the topic is still considered a taboo subject.
Allyson Fletcher, HR Advisor, KBA says, ‘Years ago, I was made responsible for the management of an employee who was suffering from a mental health condition. Having no previous experience and with no guidance or support from senior management, I was left on my own to handle the situation; and as a result, I am certain that I failed this employee in every way.
Today I would know what to do when an employee is suffering from a mental health condition and I also have the backup of a supportive employer who I can turn to for extra assistance. On top of that, there are a plethora of resources available to educate businesses in this area. We are slowly moving in the right direction but still have a way to go. Mental health should not and is not a dirty word and the more we talk about it, the more we educate ourselves on how to help others who are suffering.’
The Importance of Workplace Policies for Mental Health
Employees believe that employers have an ethical obligation to support employees experiencing a mental health condition. A good percentage of employees don’t actively seek support because there is a lack of policies in place to support mental health in the workplace. Creating policies, fostering a discussion and making mental health resources accessible can help employees open-up and seek support in the workplace.
Allyson Fletcher, who deals with the diverse clientele at KBA says, ‘There is nothing to fear when it comes to mental health; it is an illness, period! Treat it the same you would a physical injury; with care, concern and your highest confidence. If you don’t have the confidence or knowhow there are people, like us here at Key Business Advisors, who can guide you and help you support your staff and get them back to their healthy best.’
Studies show that 45% of Australians between 16 and 85 are likely to experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. An adult spends about 4821 days at work and work can be a great place to help start a meaningful conversation about mental health. Often employers misconstrue that providing support is expensive, which is not the case. Did you know absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims cost employers $11 billion every year across Australia? Initiating a dialogue around mental health can help increase productivity in an employee’s life as well as at work.
Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace
How does one create a mentally healthy workplace? Heads-up defines a mentally healthy workplace as ‘a place where people at all levels have a shared vision of, and commitment to positive mental health.’ Employees of a mentally healthy workplace are more likely to agree with their leadership team and have access to policies/procedures/practices that support mental health. Educating managers on the cost of mental health for the business and the ways to reduce mental health problems can help businesses in the long-run.
Here are a few initiatives that will help you create a healthy workplace:
- Be Aware. Be Open. Ask the question: R U OK?
- Ensure you have a mental health policy in place.
- Make sure bullying, harassment and workplace trauma are minimised and addressed promptly.
- Work with your employee after a claim has been made.
- Adjustments to work hours and flexibility can assist employees returning to work.
- Work with their nominated treating doctors.
- Have a mental health day. Get a speaker to start a conversation.
- Lead by an example; Challenge the leadership team to share their experience dealing with anxiety/depression.
- Promote and implement flexible workplace.
- Let employees bring their children and pets to work.
- A corporate health policy can benefit your employees.
- Offer counselling services.
- Sign-up employees for a wellness program.
- Offer Podcast /App subscription or a gym membership to help stay fit and healthy.
- Prioritising tasks, workloads and setting realistic goals are a few strategies employers could insist to help employees.
Note: If you’re suffering from anxiety/depression or know someone that is suffering. Please Reach out – Beyond Blue: 1300224636, Lifeline Crisis Online 13 11 14.