Why workplace mental health and wellbeing must be taken seriously and how to take action to create a mentally healthy workforce

As many Australians spend most of their waking weekday hours at work and increasingly more time with workmates and clients than with their own family and friends, it’s important that they feel mentally healthy, safe and valued at work. If this can be achieved, performance is likely to be at its optimum, allowing busy corporates to flourish in other equally important aspects of life.

Mental illness is now the leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia. Up to 50% of Australian workers have experienced bullying and alarmingly, workplace bullying is estimated to cost our economy $6-$36 billion annually.

In mentally healthy workplaces:

  • People watch out for each other and can ask colleagues if they’re ok
  • Managers and teams understand mental health and openly talk about it
  • People know about things they can do to build resilience for challenging times at work and at home
  • Staff with mental health concerns seek help early
  • Staff with mental health issues are supported in their
  • Mentally healthy workplaces are good for people and businesses

When workplaces are mentally healthy, enormous benefits to individual employees and to the business itself are seen, such as:

Enhanced work performance and productivity. We perform at our best when we have high levels of psychological wellbeing and job satisfaction.

Improvements for a company’s bottom line. Reduced staff turnover, recruitment and training costs; fewer sick days and ‘presenteeism’ (being at work but not able to work at capacity), greater productivity and creativity are all good for your business – increasing revenue and decreasing.

Improvements in wellbeing. Work instills us with a sense of purpose, provides social networks and supports, gives opportunities to grow and develop, and helps us achieve in areas of strength – all important contributing factors to our wellbeing.

Helping recovery. For those of us living with mental illness, work can play an important role in helping us recover. Many mental illnesses we see in the workplace are treatable, and in some cases, preventable.

Attracting (and keeping) great talent. Businesses that invest in mental health are more likely to attract and retain the best and brightest. The culture of workplace wellbeing has many flow-on effects to individuals, businesses and the


A well-designed workplace should support individual mental health, leading to reduced absenteeism, increased employee engagement and improved productivity. It therefore makes great business sense to invest in the mental health of the team. ‘Every dollar spent on effective mental health action returns $2.30 in benefits to an organisation.’ (PWC, Beyond Blue National Mental Health Commission, 2014)

Evan Jackson from the Black Dog Institute, an Australian charity dedicated to creating a mentally healthier world, shared six ways to help make a workplace mentally healthy:

“There are lots of simple things everyone can do to make a mentally healthy workplace. You don’t need to spend a lot of money and you  can engage all the team to make it happen,” explained Evan.

1. Smart work design: Establish flexible working hours. Address workplace culture of when, where and how you work. Involve staff in deciding how work is performed. Listen to people’s ideas about how to get their work done. Monitor staff workloads. Ensure your physical work environment is safe and encouraging.

2. Building personal resilience: Provide stress management and resilience training for those in high- risk jobs, such as emergency service workers exposed to significant levels of trauma or Use evidence-based approaches such as cognitive behaviour therapy. Provide and encourage regular physical activity opportunities like lunchtime yoga, jogging or meditation. Encourage mentoring and coaching

3. Building better work cultures: Learn how to have conversations with people you’re concerned about and encourage all staff to look out for each other. Provide mental health education to the whole team. Reduce stigma. Speak openly about mental health conditions. Ensure senior staff are engaged in mental health promotion and providing a safe and positive workplace. Implement a mental health policy including zero tolerance of bullying and discrimination.

4. Increasing awareness of mental health: Provide access to mental health information. Leave brochures about mental health on team notice boards. Talk openly about mental health at work. Participate in events like World Mental Health Day and RU OK? Day. Conduct mental health awareness programs and mandatory training. Include mental health development in staff induction and development.

5. Supporting staff recovery from mental illness: Provide supervisor training on how to support workers recovering from mental illness and stressful life events. Facilitate flexible sick leave. Modify duties and work schedules when appropriate. Provide a supportive environment and ensure no discrimination or bullying occurs.

6. Early intervention: Encourage staff to seek help early. Consider wellbeing checks once appropriate supports are in place. Provide mental health training so staff can support each other. Provide a peer support program for staff.

The Black Dog Institute provides specialist, tailored workplace training to support businesses to achieve a mentally healthy environment and this year are one of the mental health charities you can support through Challenge4Change, a virtual fundraising event taking place during 21-27 August 2017 where everyday people across Australia can challenge themselves to undertake some form of activity and bring together friends, family or workplace colleagues to do so; mental wellness is about staying active and staying connected!

The event already has the support of several other prominent mental health charities such as Beyond Blue, BATYR, Lifeline, ReachOut, Police Legacy NSW and Black Dog Institute who kindly provided expert input to this article. To register your business or organsiation to take part in Challenge4Change and take action in support of mental wellbeing,

simply visit www. challenge4change.com.au

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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