Mental Health in the Workplace

Updated: Aug 17, 2018

If your employee had a broken leg, would you pretend you didn’t notice and have them carry on with their work (even if they couldn’t manage it)? Of course not.

So how would you react if your employee told you they needed a “mental health day”. Mental Health in the workplace is highly stigmatised and employees that have invisible illnesses such as stress disorders, depression and anxiety can often find themselves falling behind because of a lack of openness and communication.

Why is it Important to Have Good Mental Health?

Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, panic or anxiety attacks are all concepts that get abused in conversation. Words like “anxiety” get tossed around to describe nervousness or mild discomfort, and most people who describe “having anxiety” are just experiencing run-of-the-mill discomfort. Discomfort, or nervousness, is extremely uncomfortable, and it can be momentarily overwhelming. But anxiety attacks are debilitating — many have mistaken them for heart attacks.

Perhaps the cavalier way we discuss mental health as a society molds us into people who discount those living with poor or compromised mental health. As diversity and inclusion become the norm rather than the exception, employers must be vigilant about mental health discrimination on all levels of their businesses.

According to an ABS study, 45% of Australians between the ages of 16-85 will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. It is estimated that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year. This comprises $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims. If nearly half of the population struggle with their mental health, you probably have multiple team members who are powering through a tough emotional or psychological episode on the job. Addressing mental health proactively means that people will be able to seek support when they are experiencing poor mental health.

Tips for Improving Mental Health

How can we achieve good mental health in our own lives? You can benefit greatly from getting adequate sleep, exercise, positive dieting choices, and fulfilling work. Make sure that your employees are not only satisfied with their salaries, but also your company’s vision. Give your employees a purpose.

Encourage healthy behaviour in your office, but make sure not to cross into the weight loss territory as food and body image can be a trigger for mental illness. Make efforts to encourage employees to eat nutritiously without connecting their diets to weight loss. You could introduce a Wellness Wednesday which could be a simple as a walk to the park to eat your lunch.

Improving mental health in the workplace takes some thought. Make your office a positive one, and listen to your employees’ concerns. Remember that everyone is an individual and deserves to be treated as such.

How to Promote Positive Mental Health

Encouraging open and honest conversations in your office are some good ways to promote positive mental health. Stigma keeps people from discussing their own medical histories. Implement mental health awareness into your company policy. Let employees know that you are willing to personally talk to them if they feel uncomfortable, or unable to complete their work. Create an environment where your employees won’t feel judged for telling you.

Find out what may trigger an episode and try to create alternate solutions eg. Sharing work duties, working from home part time, working within a team more, or working alone more etc.

Remember, if you have an employee living with a mental health issue (and chances are you will at some point) it’s important that you help them.

A 2014 return on investment analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that for every dollar spent on creating a mentally healthy workplace, there would be a $2.30 benefit to the business.

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