Four signs of a mentally unhealthy workplace

Nov 10, 2014

In your company, do people regularly eat lunch at their desks? Do your employees notch up holiday leave but never take it? Your business could be fostering a culture that threatens the mental health of people who work there.

Looking after the wellbeing of your employees begins with the culture of the workplace. Do you recognise these four signs of a mentally unhealthy workplace at your company?

Australian employees say they have greater respect for employers who care about their mental health. A 2013 study by The Australia Institute, supported by beyondblue, revealed that there are four indicators of a mentally unhealthy workplace. Do any of these four warning signs ring alarm bells for you?

 

Warning sign 1: Staff eat lunch at their desks

The Australia Institute study revealed that 3.8 million Australians routinely don't take a lunch break, with one in two saying they are too busy. Nearly three quarters eat lunch at their desk or cut short or postpone their lunch break till mid-afternoon. Taking a break, or going for a walk at lunchtime, delivers physical and mental health benefits, and allows them to resume work refreshed and, ultimately, more productive.

 

Warning sign 2: Employees are on call, 24/7

One in four employees reported that they check work emails and answer work calls outside of work hours. While this is at times necessary, when it becomes a habit it can have a significant impact on the lives of workers and their families. With longer hours, workers are more tired – and therefore less productive. In the report, around one in five respondents – the equivalent to around 2.3 million Australian workers – said the impact this had on their lives was severe or moderate. Such a pattern of overwork has an impact not just socially, but emotionally and physically on workers.


Warning sign 3: Your employees don’t take holiday leave

One in two Australian workers didn’t take their full annual leave entitlements in 2012, accruing the equivalent of 128 million days in annual leave. Research shows the employees stockpile their annual leave because of workload management – worry that there will be a build-up of work before and after taking a holiday. This issue is then made worse when managers fail to make sure the work is adequately covered during the worker’s absence. In addition, many employees are so concerned about job security that they don’t take a break. But the benefits of taking a holiday are significant: it prevents burnout and poor health, and also helps maintain job safety and satisfaction.


Warning sign 4: Employees don’t feel comfortable discussing workplace and mental health issues with managers

Nearly half of employees surveyed feel their managers are not skilled enough to discuss sensitive workplace issues, while one in two Australians are not comfortable discussing mental health with their employer. A culture of openness, and managers demonstrating that they have an interest in an employee’s wellbeing through regular meetings and feedback, can provide a more positive environment and make workers more comfortable discussing these issues with their manager.

 

With one in five Australians experiencing a mental health condition in any given year, taking action to improve mental health in the workplace is critically important for business.

A 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report on mental health in the workplace estimated that the costs incurred when employers do not take action to manage mental health conditions in their business costs Australian business approximately $10.9 billion per year. But the report also showed that, on average, businesses will experience a return of $2.30 for every $1 invested in initiatives that foster better mental health in the workplace – and even higher in some industries.

 

Create better workplace health: join Heads Up

If you recognise any of the above signs of an unhealthy workplace in your own business, Heads Up, a joint initiative of beyondblue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance (MHWA), provides resources for organisational leaders to take action. This includes an interactive action plan to create a mentally healthy workplace. By joining Heads Up you can save your action plan and monitor your progress.



Heads Up on LinkedIn 

If you would like more information and resources about how to create a more mentally healthy workplace, please visit our LinkedIn company page, which is regularly updated with stories and links related to the issue.

If you would like to join the discussion about a mentally healthy workplace, please visit our LinkedIn group page and become part of the conversation.

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