5 tips to improve mental health in the workplace

By Robert Half 9 September 2019

Every year, mental illness affects the lives of millions of Australians. And yet, many people are afraid to talk about mental health, especially in the workplace.

What can you, as an employer, do to reduce stigma and create a safer, more supportive work environment?

Dealing with mental health in the workplace can be a sensitive issue, but simple initiatives can make a big difference.

In recognition of R U OK Day on September 12, we explore the prevalence of mental health issues in Australia and steps you can take to improve workplace wellbeing.

Mental health and mental illness

Before launching any mental health initiatives in your workplace, it’s important to understand the difference between mental health and mental illness.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Mental illness refers to conditions such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia (also referred to as mental health issues or disorders).

Mental health in Australia at a glance

To improve mental health in your organisation, it’s useful to get a snapshot of current mental health challenges facing the country.

  • 45% of Australians will experience a common mental disorder in their lifetime. [Australian Institute of Health and Welfare].
  • During any one 12-month period, approximately 1 million Australians will have depression, and 2 million will have anxiety [Beyond Blue].
  • Three million Australians are currently living with anxiety or depression [Beyond Blue].

Why should employers care about mental health in the workplace?

The benefits of mentally healthy workplaces are wide-ranging. From happier, more engaged employees to reduced stress, workplace wellbeing can make a huge difference to your company culture.

Here are some of the top benefits of implementing workplace mental health initiatives.

Happier, more productive employees - Many studies show that happier employees do better work and also deliver better customer service. Gallup found that engaged employees are 21% more productive than their non-engaged counterparts.

Improved recruitment and employee retention - Attract top talent, retain your best employees, and turn your staff into ‘champions’ of your business who spread the word about what a great place your organisation is to work.

A healthier workforce – and a healthier bottom line - Save money on recruitment and retention, as well as get more out of your workforce, as happier employees are more productive. Happier employees may also be less likely to take sick leave, reducing the cost of illness for your organisation.

David Jones, Senior Managing Director at Robert Half Asia Pacific says: “Happy employees tend to be more engaged, loyal, creative and productive than their less satisfied counterparts. Creating a positive culture that engages employees and boosts satisfaction levels, enables companies to remain competitive and directly impacts the bottom line.”

Steps for improving mental health in the workplace

1. Talk about mental health and workplace wellbeing as often as possible

The more you talk about mental health and workplace wellbeing, the safer your employees will feel to do the same. Talking about these topics can also help to reduce stigma.

2. Ask R U OK?

Check in with your employees regularly by asking R U OK? Asking this simple yet powerful question shows them that you care about their wellbeing. This year’s official R U OK? Day is on Thursday 12 September – get involved early to start the conversation as soon as possible.

3. Create an employee assistance program for those with mental health challenges

By talking about mental health, you may find that employees come forward to share their experience with mental illness. It’s important to have strategies in place to support these employees when they trust you with this information, in the form of a formal employee assistance program.

4. Invest in wellbeing initiatives

From supplying free fruit to offering discounted gym memberships, time off for counselling, or creating a social club, there are lots of ways to promote wellbeing in the workplace. Ask your employees which wellbeing initiatives would make the biggest difference to their mental health and work-life balance, and implement them.

5. Make workplace happiness a top priority

The Robert Half Work Happy Report evaluated the happiness levels of more than 2,000 working professionals throughout Australia and identified several factors that influence happiness in the workplace.

Employer-driven mental health initiatives are key to creating safe, supportive work environments and reducing stigma around mental illness.

What’s more, happier, healthier employees are likely to be more productive, engaged, and loyal, which has a direct impact on your company’s bottom line.

To find out even more about the benefits of workplace wellbeing,
download the Robert Half Work Happy Report.

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