Australian business, on average, loses $6.5 billion per annum because mental health issues in the workplace are not being addressed early enough1. This translates to an average cost to an employer of $9,000 per annum for every worker not seeking treatment for a mental health issue. The recent air disaster in the French Alps has also highlighted how serious and devastating the impact of mental health can have on all of us.
Talk. Talk. Talk. Awareness and education is the key for developing a good understanding of mental health and how to support employees who are at risk. AccessEAP recommends that organisations develop and implement policies that raise awareness of mental health and work towards reducing stigma in the workplace. Leaders and managers talking about mental health openly and honestly goes a long way towards acceptance of mental health in the workplace. This in turn helps to build empathy for co-workers and an acknowledgement that there may be high stress levels in the workplace that impacts on individuals and their wellbeing.
It is critical we all work towards reducing the stigma so employees can feel safe to talk about their mental health without fear of consequences and trusting that there will be help and support. The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance is a national initiative to encourage workplaces to become mentally healthy and is a great source of information for helping employers determine how they can improve workplace mental health.
By developing a long term mental health strategy, addressing policy and providing mental health resources, it is more likely that areas of bullying, poor decision making, long working hours, inadequate communication and job insecurity can be addressed.
Protective factors can be developed and implemented, such as training that is related to leadership, positive morale, collaborate decision making, good communication and team collaboration. The evidence shows that acceptance and good working relationships, especially with managers, are a strong protective factor.
There is no one way to improve mental health in the workplace, but an action plan that develops and implements supportive measures to help improve wellbeing, both physical and mental, has been shown to help improve employee productivity, lower absenteeism and promote a positive workplace culture.
Having access to, and promoting, employee assistance programmes in the workplace, and access to the counselling provided by these programmes, is critical. Management need to support and encourage employees to use the counselling services and demonstrate that it is acceptable as a strong message in helping reduce the stigma.
AccessEAP recommends the following training sessions to improve awareness of mental health in the workplace:
Understanding Mental Health, Stress Awareness and Management, Building Resilience, Workplace Conflict and Negotiations, Managing Challenging Behaviours, Work/Life Effectiveness.
Managers are not always aware or confident in talking about mental health with their employees and can be supported through manager support services, critical incident stress management, conflict resolution services and organisational consulation.
1 Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace, PWC, 2014