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Is your workplace mentally healthy?


You can improve the mental health culture of your workplace by taking some easy steps, writes Geoff Harris.

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When it comes to mental health we throw around a few statistics that have become synonymous with the issue: like 50 per cent of us will experience mental ill-health in our lifetime and for one in five of us, it will be this year. A more recent one has come from Price Waterhouse Coopers who found that every $1 spent on creating a mentally healthy workplace will get a return of $2.30.

The benefits come from increased productivity, lower rates of absenteeism and fewer compensation claims. According to Safework Australia, mental stress claims are the most expensive compensation claims with Australian businesses paying out $146 million each year.

While helping the financial bottom line is always appealing to business, we know that workplace culture is important for a productive workforce. A positive workplace has good morale, job satisfaction and cohesive relationships within its workforce.

Workers often leave job satisfaction to management and leaders to deal with, but morale and cohesive relationships are something we can all influence. We can do that by taking away the stigma of mental ill-health and to begin to genuinely care about the mental wellbeing of those working alongside us.

National research conducted by HeadsUp found nine out of 10 employees believed mentally healthy workplaces were important, however only five out of 10 believed their workplace was mentally healthy.

At the Mental Health Coalition of SA, I manage workers who have a lived experience of mental illness and some who do not. Regardless of whether they have had a diagnosis or not, I take great care in their mental health.

Of course, as the state’s peak mental health body we have many conversations about mental health and we do not carry a stigma when it comes to illness. However, when it comes to the wellbeing of our workers I believe it is just an act of humanity.

We all have tribulations in life and those events can lead to moments where we need to slow down, take on some self-care and even seek help. During those times we all cannot afford to stop work altogether but perhaps we need to take time off or change the way we work.

If someone who works for us is struggling with their mental health I know as their leader it is important I work with them on what they need to get well again. The first thing I do is make sure they can talk to me or their line manager. Open communication is key as people are more likely to reach out for help from a colleague they can trust.

Either I or their manager will then talk through what steps they need to help them. Solutions range from addressing their workload and reducing their contact hours to working from home for a while or using their sick leave to take time off.

If someone was injured or physically unwell we would take these steps, so why not if they are struggling with their mental health?

Mental health is something we all have and, like our physical health, it needs to be managed. And as with our physical health, we can have moments of being mentally unwell.

Mental health is our core work so taking these steps to maintain a mentally healthy workplace is ingrained in what we do. But what do you do if you are a workplace that has never had this conversation before?

We recognised this year that changing the workplace culture around mental health can be a challenge and that is why we partnered with Business SA to roll out the ‘5 Day Workplace Challenge‘. The steps we are asking workplaces to take each day are really simple, but the meaning behind them is deeply important.

Creating a mentally healthy workplace is not just an aspiration, it is a legal requirement for employers who have responsibilities under anti-discrimination, privacy, and work health and safety legislation.

The 5 Day Workplace Challenge can help you to start the conversation about looking after mental health in the workplace. Today is a good day to start.

Geoff Harris is executive director of the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia.

This week is Mental Health Week.

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