12 practical (low cost) steps to achieving a mentally healthy workplace that are so easy you can start today!
We know COVID-19 has impacted mental health. What with quarantine, lock downs, remote work, no work, job insecurity, economic downturn, travel restrictions, grocery shortages, physical distancing, home schooling and the list goes on. More than ever, employers are thinking about what they can do to support the mental health of their employees. Are you one of those employers, but don’t know where to start? I am going to share some straight-forward, practical steps that you can start today.
Before I get into the 12 simple steps, it would be remiss of me not to share the “what” and the “why” before we get to the “how”.
The Australian context
45% of Australians between the ages of 16-85 will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime and 1 in 5 Australian employees report that they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the past 12 months (The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2007 National Mental Health and Well-Being Survey).
Key findings from the 2014 TNS report “State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia” indicate that 91% of Australian employees believe mental health in the workplace is important but despite this, only 52% of employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy compared to 76% for physical safety. Only 56% believe their most senior leader values mental health. It goes on to state that mentally unhealthy workplaces have an impact on employee behaviour and that Australian employees have an expectation of mental health support in the workplace.
According to Safe Work Australia, 6% of all serious workers compensation claims are for work-related mental health conditions, 7140 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions per year and 92% of serious work-related mental health conditions are attributed to work-related mental stress.
As an employer you’ll want to look at psychological health from two angles. Not only will you need to ensure that the work environment is free of situations that could cause mental health conditions but you’ll also want to provide a mentally healthy environment that supports all employees (whether the origin of the potential mental health condition is work-related or not). The mental health of an employee has a direct impact on their performance at work. Employees bring their whole selves to work, personal and professional.
What is a mentally healthy workplace?
A mentally healthy workplace is one in which employees are provided with a safe work environment which does not create or aggravate mental health conditions and is supportive of employees who may experience mental illness. Recognising and promoting mental health is an important facet of any organisation.
This can be achieved through:
What are the benefits of a mentally healthy workplace?
A mentally healthy workplace nurtures happy, healthy employees resulting in:
The 12 steps
Creating a mentally healthy workplace requires an integrated approach – a combination of workplace practices. Below is a list of 12 practices that you can put in place. They are listed in no particular order, except for number 1 and 12, because it starts and ends with you.
5. Change Management
This can be simple or sophisticated depending on the needs and size of your organisation. Change management helps people go on the journey, buy in to what you are doing, resist less and feel in control of the change rather than experiencing the change as something that is “happening” to them. The basic premise of managing change is to communicate the what, why, how, ask for input, incorporate the input, include people early on and keep them in the loop along the way.
6. Strong leadership
By demonstrating strong leadership you will be supporting and driving a mentally healthy culture. Leading by example will encourage others to do the same which will go a long way in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.
Strong leadership means…
7. Celebrate events
Celebrating national events openly demonstrates that mental health and wellbeing is important to you and your organisation. For me, this is one of the simplest ones to implement. Pick a few at the beginning of the year, diarise them and implement during the year.
Some popular events include:
The execution of these events can be simple (e.g. awareness via email communication and posters) or more complex (e.g. workplace event). Get people involved by delegating the planning and implementation to members/teams within your organisation.
8. Team socials
Although a little harder within a COVID-19 environment, team socials are always a great way to build relationships and de-stress with your work mates. (P.S. bear in mind that these are not everyone’s cup of tea so keep them optional).
9. Support remote workers
More than ever there is a need to keep remote workers connected and supported. There is an abundance of freely available information on how to achieve this.
10. EAP or equivalent
Many organisations have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to support employees through counselling and related services. If you do not have budget for an EAP program, click here for a consolidated list of free support services to provide your employees.
11. Performance feedback
Provide regular feedback (positive and constructive) to employees through informal and formal means like one-to-ones and performance development conversations.
12. Look after yourself
Do not forget to take time out to look after your own health and wellbeing. Lead by example!