We all know that everything we do in our lives can affect our overall health and wellbeing. From what we eat, how well we sleep, to how financially secure we are and how satisfied we feel in our career. For many of these areas of wellbeing, we can visualise how well people are. Mental health is an invisible area of wellbeing that is often overlooked, yet is impacted by every part of our being.  

According to the ABS National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 43.7% of Australians have experienced a mental disorder at some stage in their life. They define a mental disorder as ‘a clinically diagnosable disorder that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities’. With the line between work and our personal lives more blurred than ever, it is vital that organisations understand mental health and mental ill-health, and the role they can play in both prevention and intervention for their people. 

So, how can workplaces support their employees mental health? 

1. Have a robust wellbeing strategy in place

A workplace wellbeing strategy is an informed plan of action to help and support your employees to become happier and healthier. This should be aligned with your organisational goals and be considered in all business decisions. Your teams are more likely to adopt a wellbeing initiative that has a meaningful strategic approach, instead of a collection of benefits that don’t align with their needs. A mental health workplace policy should be part of this, and include both prevention and intervention strategies to proactively prevent issues as well as support them where needed. 

It’s important to consider the ‘whole-being’ in any wellbeing strategy. This is because all areas of wellbeing do not exist separately, they are interrelated and directly influence one another. For example, an employee might be exercising regularly, meditating and getting plenty of sleep, but if they are not financially secure, or are feeling burnt out at work due to poor job design, this can create stress and negatively impact their mental and physical health. 

2. Destigmatise mental health in the workplace

It is vital to create a safe environment for employees to focus on their wellbeing without judgement. We all talk openly about the proactive approaches we take to look after our physical health such as going to the gym and eating well, however there is still often a stigma in the workplace around mental health where it is only ever spoken about in a reactive manner to treat an ‘illness’. Imagine an environment where one of your people leaders announces they are leaving work an hour early to attend a psychologist appointment, or teams are encouraged to complete a short meditation together at the start of a meeting. This creates a safe space for employees to take a proactive approach to their wellbeing. 

3. Create a culture of care

It is easy for a company to say they care about an employee’s mental health, but you need to put this into action. If you notice someone struggling or showing signs of burnout, make sure they feel supported in taking time off and accessing support services. Showing compassion from the top down is vital to showing people you really care. Leads need to consider employee wellbeing outcomes in decision making, not just revenue. This creates a more inclusive culture for all staff. 

Consider implementing initiatives such as peer support programs or buddy systems to allow staff the opportunity to connect with other people in the organisation. This can remove some of the barriers of access for people who may not feel comfortable talking with their direct managers, and will impact the overall culture of the company.

4. What gets measured, gets managed

We’ve all heard this many times. We get our teams to take engagement surveys and we measure retention rates, absenteeism, culture and FTE’s. How often do you measure your employees actual wellbeing though? Wellbeing tools that can report back how people are really feeling are essential to measuring the impact of your wellbeing strategy. Having this data de-identified also gives employees the safety and knowledge that your core value is their wellbeing – not tracking their every move.  

Measuring how your people are feeling about their mental health is necessary for informing an aligned wellbeing strategy. Data and information about wellbeing are important elements to identify risk, analyse wellbeing initiatives, monitor progress and performance, and evaluate outcomes.  

For more information on how to approach wellbeing tools, download our Measuring Wellbeing whitepaper. 

5. Provide resources and support services

Ensure your employees have access to support services at all times, and that they feel safe to use them. Partner with an EAP provider to ensure they know anything they disclose is anonymous and that they will have professional help available to them.  

If you’re in an industry where vicarious trauma is high-risk, consider implementing mandatory psychologist appointments for staff, or set up mental health champion groups to respond and debrief on incidents. 
Your people leaders can also benefit from psychosocial training, such as Mental Health First Aid, so they are equipped to respond and provide a basic level of support. 

Consider a digital wellbeing platform as a supporting tool where all employees – from frontline workers to remote or office workers – can access mental health support and resources anywhere, anytime. This can help overcome some barriers that may get in the way of staff accessing what is available to them.

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