Creating a mentally healthy workplace

When I came across a social media post from a business stating how they aim to “normalise mental health conversations in the workplace”, this made me smile. However, before normalising the conversation, organisations must first prioritise creating mentally healthy workplaces to build a strong culture of mental health and well-being.

Since the Covid pandemic, awareness of employee well-being, particularly mental health, has improved. In September 2022, the World Health Organisation released its first-ever Global Guidelines on Mental Health at Work. Finally, a shift towards increasing companies’ responsibility to ensure employees have access to mentally healthy work environments is occurring.

What is mental health & well-being in the workplace?

Mental health makes up one component of our overall health and happiness. It can be described as the ‘state of feeling good, both physically and mentally’. It contributes to our confidence and positive self-esteem and helps maintain a sense of purpose and meaning. Therefore, mental well-being in the workplace is essential for improving productivity and job satisfaction and reducing workplace absenteeism and attrition.

When employees feel happy and engaged, their motivation to work hard and stay task focused improves and feelings of contribution increase. Alternatively, when an employee is struggling with their mental health and is experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression, and burnout, their productivity can suffer, leading to a decrease in work quality, productivity and job satisfaction.

The cost of poor mental health to businesses

In 2022 the Australian Government reported the cost of businesses not taking action on mental health is $11B per year due to reduced productivity and sickness absence. They also declare that the second most important reason for an employee to accept a position within a company is how mentally healthy a workplace is, second only to financial compensation and that nine out of 10 employees believe that working in a mentally healthy workplace is essential.

According to the Black Dog Institute, mental illness has become Australia’s leading cause of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity.

So it is essential to normalise the conversation around mental health. Businesses need to be proactive in changing workplace culture and behaviour regarding mental health and actively take steps towards creating a mentally healthy workplace.

Steps to creating a mentally healthy workspace

As an employee, no matter if it is in a small business or large organisation, there are many ways in which you can support your employee’s mental health and well-being. Getting clear on the culture you want to create and leading by example are the most critical factors for having great leadership qualities and developing meaningful cultural change.

It is essential to normalise the conversation around mental health. Businesses must proactively change workplace culture and behaviour regarding mental health and actively take steps towards creating a healthy workplace.

Some steps towards creating mentally healthy workspaces include.

  1. Build strong and meaningful relationships. Connection is at the heart of well-being. To meet the needs of your employees, spend time listening and setting up systems that encourage a culture of support throughout the organisation.
  2. Encourage, foster and embody work-life balance. Encouraging a healthy work-life balance can help improve mental health and well-being. Creating a culture whereby breaks away from the desk are encouraged, supporting flexible work arrangements, and prioritising self-care are some ways to achieve this healthy balance. The most powerful way to improve organisational culture is for leaders to set an example.
  3. Set up a well-being department or committee. Have a dedicated team of people who are skilled to help recognise the signs of stress in the workplace and be able to provide support when required. Symptoms of stress and overwhelm can include changes in mood or behaviour, increased absenteeism or decreased productivity. Ensure those responsible have the tools and resources to support others and access appropriate in-house or external support systems.
  4. Educate yourself and your team. Educate yourself and your employees about mental health and well-being. Attend and provide in-house educational training sessions or workshops on stress management, resilience and mental health awareness within the organisation.
  5. Practice self-care and encourage self-care initiatives. You can model healthy behaviours to others within your organisation by prioritising your mental health and well-being. Doing so will create a culture whereby everyone has an opportunity to thrive.

Now more than ever, we have an increased understanding that mental health and well-being are essential for individuals to reach their full potential and that more acceptance, awareness and education on achieving an improved mental health state is required.

Organisations must take accountability in prioritising mental health initiatives so that employees have the tools, knowledge and, most importantly, the support to prioritise employees’ mental health. A healthy, happy, engaged and productive workforce can improve business outcomes, and employee retention, creating a happier and healthier workplace.

Whether you are an employee of one or many, if you are considering investing in mental health initiatives, your employees will thank you for it, and your business will reap the benefits.

To help you get started, we have created a free download outlining eight ways to set your business or organisation up as a mentally healthy workplace. Access the resource here

Jessica Cairns

Jessica Cairns

Nutritionist & Health Coach

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