Let’s talk about mental health in the workplace

September 3, 2015 Kim Schollick No Comments

Next week, on September 10th, it’s R U OK? Day – which means now is a great time to take a look at what kind of impact your workplace is having on the mental health of your staff.

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, R U OK Day is the brainchild of R U OK?, a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2009, with the aim of preventing suicide by encouraging people to regularly and meaningfully ask the people in their lives, “Are you okay?”

While most of us may feel equipped to have that conversation with our friends and family, we may not feel as comfortable asking that question in the workplace.

Workplaces have made great strides in encouraging good physical health in recent years, but mental health, unfortunately, still takes a backseat most of the time. That, however, is a mistake – and a costly one at that. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimates that:

  • Absenteeism due to mental health conditions costs Australian businesses $4.7 billion per year
  • Presenteeism (wherein people are less productive than normal) due to mental health conditions costs Australian businesses $6.1 billion per year
  • Compensation claims resulting from mental health conditions cost Australian businesses $146 million per year

Here are some ways to improve the way your workplace approaches mental health:

Remove the stigma

According to the Black Dog Institute, one in five Australians aged 16-85 will experience a mental illness in any given year.

Unfortunately, despite the prevalence of mental illness, there’s still a lot of stigma attached to it. Four out of 10 Australians who take sick leave for depression keep the true reason behind their leave a secret from their employers, for fear of jeopardising their job.

Take these steps to reduce the stigma towards mental illness in your workplace:

  • Encourage open and honest dialogue about mental health
  • Discourage hurtful or discriminatory language
  • Actively Support staff who do have mental health issues

Provide mental health training

To build a psychologically healthy workplace, managers should ideally provide staff with the tools to manage and prevent mental health concerns.

There are a few ways this can be achieved, but one the easiest and most effective ways is to run training sessions that support this goal.

Depending on the dynamics and demographics of your workplace, you may want to consider offering training sessions on:

  • Mental health awareness
  • Mental health first aid
  • Stress management
  • Time management
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Diversity and disability training

Take part in mental health days

R U OK? Day (September 10th) and Mental Health Awareness Week (4th – 10th October) are both fantastic opportunities to open up the dialogue about mental health in your workplace.

The R U OK? website offers a number of suggestions, as well as resources, to get your staff talking about mental health.

Participating in days like R U OK? or World Mental Health Day helps to further reduce stigma, while supporting staff who are experiencing difficulties.

Offer confidential support services

While in a perfect world, staff would feel comfortable enough to discuss their mental health concerns with their employers, this isn’t always the case. The best way to tackle this is to offer your employees alternative, confidential support services.

While a larger business may have the resources to establish their own, dedicated hotline for employees experiencing mental illness, harassment or bullying, a smaller business should make use of the myriad support lines that already exist for the general public – this list is a great resource.

Consider posting these numbers in highly visible location in your workplace.

Have a comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policy

We all deserve to work in a psychologically healthy and supportive environment. Unfortunately, workplace bullying and harassment is rife in modern workplace, with some studies indicating that up to 96% of American employees have experienced workplace bullying.

While you can’t always keep an eye on how your staff are interacting, you can make sure your staff know that bullying and harassment won’t be tolerated. Draft a comprehensive Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy, and communicate this with all of your staff. You may not be able to stamp out bullying 100%, but you can minimise it.

The financial and emotional impact of mental health conditions is both real and concerning. All businesses, regardless of size, need to consider implementing initiatives to deal with mental health in the workplace – and you can start that by simply asking someone, “Are you okay?”

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