How to Create a Mentally Healthy Workplace
Australia is in the grip of a mental health crisis impact being felt by individuals, communities, our struggling health system and workplaces alike.
Untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces a staggering $10.9 billion per year — $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims.
There’s no denying the negative consequences the COVID-19 pandemic had on the mental health of all Australians.
But if there was one silver lining, it was that leaders across the country realised that creating a mentally healthy workplace was no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ – it was a true business imperative.
It is estimated that workplaces that support the wellbeing of their staff experience three times less absenteeism than less supportive workplaces — with other benefits including increased commitment and job satisfaction.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Month in South Australia this October, here’s five ways your organisation can create a mentally healthy workplace — and reap the benefits for both your staff, and bottom-line.
What does a mentally healthy workplace look like?
There are four key markers of a mentally healthy workplace:
- There is a positive workplace culture and an understanding that mental health is everyone’s responsibility.
- Stress and other risks to mental health are managed.
- People feel safe and supported to talk about mental health.
- Mental health support is tailored for individuals and teams.
There’s also an emerging link between mental health in the workplace and diversity, equity, and inclusion — with younger workers and historically underrepresented groups reported to struggle with their mental health the most.
So, it’s also worth acknowledging that a mentally healthy workplace is also an inclusive workplace.
How can you create a mentally healthy workplace?
It requires a long-term commitment from management, and should focus on ensuring that your employees feel safe knowing they won't be excluded, treated differently, or lose their job should they open up about their mental health struggles.
1. Lead from the front
It’s important that as a manager or leader, you visibly demonstrate and communicate your organisation’s commitment to mental health.
By getting involved in health and safety issues, investing time and money in health and safety, and ensuring health and safety responsibilities are clearly understood — your staff will be more likely to follow your lead.
2. Identify and address psychosocial hazards
Psychosocial hazards are risks to mental health in the workplace, and can include the under-use of skills or being under-skilled for work, having an excessive workload or work pace, or being understaffed — just to name a few.
To create a mentally healthy workplace, it’s important that you identify and address any psychosocial hazards by developing and endorsing relevant workplace policies, procedures or practices to support mental health.
Equally as important is communicating these to your staff — a 2014 study of Australian employees found that 35 per cent didn’t know if their workplace had any policies, procedures or practices to support mental health. Comparatively, 81 per cent of the leaders indicated their workplace did have one or more policies, procedures or practices in place.
This lack of awareness may deter some employees from actively seeking mental health support at work.
3. Be a role model
As a leader, don’t just say you support mental health — model it. Actions like leaving work on time, taking breaks, prioritising a healthy work/life balance and turning-off your email while taking leave will help your team members feel that they can prioritise self-care and set boundaries.
4. Provide training opportunities
In addition to enrolling your organisation’s leaders and supervisors in mental health training, it’s important that they also have the interpersonal and leadership skills to foster strong relationships with their team.
One study showed that staff who reported higher levels of manager support had lower levels of psychological distress.
This highlights the importance of the manager-employee relationship.
At Professional and Continuing Education, we offer a range of courses and programs designed to develop the leadership capability of managers, including the popular Emotional Intelligence at Work short course, Leadership and Management Essentials short course and Professional Management Program.
5. Flexible work practices
Having flexible work practices – for example, allowing your staff to alter the days, location or hours they work – gives people a sense of control at work, which supports their overall wellbeing.
If you haven’t done so already, developing a flexible work practices policy is a great way to create a mentally healthy workplace.
With remote work becoming increasingly common, you could also consider upskilling your leadership skills in managing virtual and hybrid teams, by undertaking a relevant online short course from the University of Adelaide on Future Learn.
For more information about supporting mental health in the workplace during Mental Health Awareness Month in South Australia, visit Wellbeing SA.
If you’d like to invest in leadership training for yourself or your team, explore Professional and Continuing Education’s range of practical and focused leadership and management short courses or Executive Education programs.