This Thursday is R U OK? Day, a national initiative that prompts everyone to ask their friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances a very important question – ‘are you ok?’. Each day, 8 Australians will take their own life. This affects not just their immediate friends and family, but causes a ripple effect of destruction that can take decades to fade out.
Mental health affects all of us at one point or another – 1 in 5 people will experience mental illness in their lifetime – and yet there is still a stigma that surrounds asking for help. R U OK? Day does an amazing job of normalising a conversation that can sometimes be difficult to have. However, there are still those who question whether the workplace is the right place to have that conversation – they couldn’t be more wrong.
Australians spend 37 to 42 hours per week at work on average. It might not sound like a lot, but ask yourself, how are you spending the other 126 hours of the week? 49 are spent asleep, leaving 77 for everything else – kids, shopping, downtime, appointments, whittling the time for meaningful conversations down further and further. And that’s if you’re statistically average.
The fact is, 8.85 million Australians spend the majority of their time at work, making it one of the most important places for people to connect with one another, or at the very least, learn to recognise when their colleague is struggling. R U OK? Day is an opportunity for Australian employers to not just educate their employees about the importance of checking in on their colleagues, but also promote a culture where employees feel safe enough to answer honestly.
So as an employer, what steps can you take to ensure your employees are mentally well?
Although 1 in 5 people will struggle with mental illness in their lifetime, 1 in 2 managers believe their employees are unaffected by mental illness. Employers should make it a priority to be properly informed about mental illness and acknowledge that:
- Mental illness is more common than people realise
- It is caused by a number of different factors, including genetic, biological, social and environmental
- People who are mentally ill are not able to ‘pull themselves out of it’
- With proper treatment, the vast majority of mental illness cases are treatable
By understanding the above, employers are able to empathise with their employees, inspiring them to establish policies and programs to create a mentally healthy workplace. They’re also better positioned to lead by example; visible and active support of mental wellbeing from leadership will prompt greater engagement from employees.
What’s the Benefit?
Under the Work Health and Safety Act (2011), employers must protect the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees. Physical wellbeing makes sense when you consider the massive amount of litigation that surrounds injuries sustained at work in the past 30 years. But mental injury is now proving just at litigious as physical injuries – and rightly so. Employers have more incentive than self-preservation to develop mentally well workplaces.
When you account for absenteeism, productivity loss, high turnover and compensation, Australian businesses lose $10.9 billion per year due to undiagnosed mental illnesses. On the flipside, research shows that workplaces that promote mental wellbeing are more productive, attract and retain better employees and can reduce turnover by up to 51%.
A recent study of Financial Time Stock Exchange 100 companies found that those who address mental health and wellbeing in their annual reports were 3x more profitable than those who didn’t. The reality is that mentally well workplaces are good for business.
How Can You Help?
So now that you know why you should invest in the mental health of your employees… how should you do it? Believe it or not, investing in the mental wellbeing of your employees doesn’t cost the earth. For the most part, all it will cost is the time to implement it.
1. Have a mental health and wellbeing policy
Having a mental health and wellbeing policy shows a level of transparency that few other initiatives can provide. It’s an opportunity to communicate to all employees that their mental wellbeing is a priority, that you will provide them with support should they need it and that they do not need to fear the stigma of mental illness. You can download your own template here.
2. Get an Employee Assistance Program (or EAP)
EAPs aren’t as expensive as you think they are. Not only do they provide confidential, 24/7 qualified counselling for every employee (like the mental health and wellbeing policy), it’s also a clear sign that you support your employees’ mental wellbeing. Research shows that having an EAP doesn’t just benefit those who use it; it also increases morale, productivity and loyalty for those who don’t. Find out more Employment Hero’s EAP.
3. Create social groups
Supporting the mental health of your employees isn’t just about providing them with the services they need when they’re mentally unwell. It’s also about building a workplace with meaningful connections. Social isolation is a growing concern for many, and for some, work is the only place they get to interact with others. Provide your employees with opportunities to connect with one another; whether it’s a book club, Friday night drinks or special interest group, employees that are better connected are also more collaborative and work better as a team. Bonus points for active group activities too, like a morning walking group or team sport. Staying active is an important part of mental wellness.
4. Promote learning
A common trait of mentally well workplaces is the opportunity for personal and career development. Without the opportunity to upskill or learn new things, employees can quickly become despondent in their role. With other external factors, this can be a huge contributor to poor mental health. If you’re already using Employment Hero, Hero Learning has thousands of courses for employees to upskill or reskill. Maintain an open dialogue with your employees and ask them what areas they’d like to improve on, or where they want to be in the next year or two. Remember, that when you factor in the cost of recruitment with the lost productivity of an empty role, it can now cost 50% of a hire’s annual salary to replace them. That $800 course is looking pretty good now, isn’t it?
5. Provide positive reinforcement
Reward and recognition is a huge part of engaging your employees, but it’s also really beneficial to people struggling with their mental health. When providing feedback, always use positive reinforcement when possible. This also creates a culture where employees feel psychologically safe and that their mistakes aren’t going to get them fired. Workplaces that are psychologically safe are actually more successful, as it spurs innovation and employees are more likely to take (calculated!) risks.
6. Nurture a number of wellbeing champions
A number of companies are now training employees to act as mental health champions. Wearing a special pin or ribbon, they identify themselves as open to speaking about mental health and connect with those that need someone to speak to. If you’re already using an LMS like Hero Learning, this could be a more affordable alternative to an EAP.
R U OK? Day is an amazing initiative that highlights the importance of a single conversation can have on someone’s life. But it’s important to remember that R U OK? encourages Australians to ask that question every day of the year. For workplaces that want to ensure their employees are happy, healthy and productive, employee wellbeing programs can have a huge effect – both financially and culturally.
For more tips on creating an implementing an employee wellness strategy that works, check out our article.