How addressing mental health at work can improve productivity

Sep 26, 2017

Healthy workplaces get the best out of everyone and positively influence community attitudes towards mental health. Businesses that care about good mental health attract and keep top talent because they’re great places to work.

This article originally appeared on Fairfax National Mastheads. Credit: Alexandra Cain/Fairfax Syndication’

Arna Jade, director of business consulting firm Imari, knows first hand how important it is to help staff suffering from mental health challenges.

One of her team members, Sally*, experienced depression as a result of work and life stresses.

“During her time with me she started to open up,” says Jade.

“I was able to act as an ear for her to vent her issues to, which meant that she didn’t become consumed by her problems during working hours. Personal issues can really affect productivity, so if I could sense she was tense, I would pull her aside and ask her what was going on, how were things at home.”

Through that, Sally became comfortable being open with Jade when problems happened so they could be addressed.

“That meant I had a happy, productive staff member who was ultimately able to resolve some of her issues, rather than stewing on them,” Jade explains.

“I also offered to provide counselling, which she chose not to take up. But we still saw improvements by allowing her to vent in a private, supportive environment.”

Jade encourages all staff members to share their feelings, to discuss conflicts and also celebrate successes.

“They are aware that it is a supportive environment and to come to me if they think they or a co-worker might be exhibiting signs of declining mental health.

“Anxiety is a huge issue for a lot of people, usually around social situations or high pressure meetings with some of our larger clients. So we offer training and coaching as a group and individually.”

Good mental health also comes from being active and social, so the business pays for staff to attend yoga and pilates, as well as quarterly and annual team-building events.

Says Jade: “Because the team all get along so well, our office is a really supportive environment and we make sure we do whatever we can for each other.”

The business also has a raft of formal programs to maintain the team’s mental health and wellbeing on an ongoing basis.

“Encouraging people to personalise their workspaces so they feel comfortable in their space is also a priority for us,” says Jade.

She also encourages staff to take regular breaks, and ensures there are motivational books and magazines available in the office.

“We also make sure we reward successes even if they are small in our weekly meetings. We celebrate larger wins by taking the team out or by giving them something so they know they are appreciated.”

Jade says the company also provides six free counselling sessions a year to staff and also their immediate family, if they need it.

“Staff can also take time off for mental health days – we encourage them not to lie if they just feel crap and don’t want to come in. We see that as just as important as sick leave.”

Such initiatives show the benefits of implementing an org-wide mental health plan and strategy so that managers have the tools, know-how, and understanding of how important it is to be supportive and present to your team members.  Businesses that care about good mental health and wellbeing attract and keep top talent and perform well on employee engagement surveys because they are seen as great places to work.

But, aside from ensuring the business has this best-practice approach to mental health, all organisations that have staff have legal obligations to ensure they can demonstrate a duty of care around employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

Trent Hancock is a senior associate with employment law firm McDonald Murholme. He notes that for many people, work can be a high stress environment and managing mental health issues can be a delicate balancing act.

“If you are dealing with a mental health issue that’s impacting your work, then it is important to discuss this with your employer; they can’t support you if they don’t know,” he says.

Employers have an obligation to their employees to provide support when it comes to disabilities or illnesses, both physical and psychological. The obligation extends to reasonably accommodating an employee’s mental health issues.

“An employee has the right to take personal leave if they are unfit to attend work due to a mental health issue,” says Hancock.

“If an employer is found to take adverse action against an employee or treat them unfavourably after disclosing their mental health issues, they open themselves up to litigation. “

Employees are protected under the Fair Work Act 2009, and can make a claim under the general protections provisions if adverse action is taken against them because of a mental disability.

Healthy workplaces get the best out of everyone and positively influence community attitudes towards mental health. Businesses that care about good mental health attract and keep top talent because they’re great places to work. Research has shown that, on average, every dollar spent creating a mentally healthy workplace results in a positive ROI of $2.30. The facts are clear: as well as benefiting employees, a mentally healthy workplace is also better for your bottom line. Heads Up provides free, practical information and resources to create mentally healthy workplaces.

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