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Mental health in the workplace: 4 ways to improve it

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay | 02 August 2019

The issue of mental health has been a hot topic in recent years, with businesses finding increasing ways of tackling the subject among employees. 

In a 2014 survey by Beyond Blue and TNS Social Research, a whopping 91% of workers believed mental health to be important in the workplace; prioritising it above physical safety (of which 88% of workers valued). 

Unfortunately, the same report revealed that only 52% of these employees believed they were part of a mentally healthy workplace, with only 56% assuming their employers even valued the subject. 

So why is quality mental health a growing need for workers, and how can it impact the overall culture and business of a company? 

Why mental health in the workplace is important

According to Heads Up, Australian businesses lose an approximate of $10.9 billion each year due to employee absenteeism, compensation claims, and poor productivity due to low mental health. Medibank, in particular, loses an even higher $10.11 billion a year due to these repercussions. 

With a mentally healthy work environment, employees will naturally experience a boost in morale and motivation. As they have less stressors dragging them down, workers will also be more engaged in their work – resulting in higher productivity, and thus, greater business outcomes. Having a much more positive mindset can also pave the way for better interpersonal relationships, resulting in fewer workplace conflicts. 

Additionally, research has found that positive behavioural and attitudinal changes take place when employees believe their CEO places high value on their mental health. 

Therefore, a step towards better mental health in the workplace must start at the top. 

What causes poor mental health in the workplace?

There are a variety of factors that contribute to poor mental health among employees, including a badly managed working environment; overwhelming or impractical workloads; poor health and safety standards; and an unclear understanding of one’s role and responsibilities. 

All these are filed under “work-related stress”, commonly believed as the root cause of most mental health issues in the workplace. After all, we spend most of our weekly time at work; it’s no wonder much of our psychological well-being rests on our daily job affairs. 

Safe Work Australia notes that the occupations most at risk of poor mental health include defence force workers; automobile, bus, and train drivers; and health and welfare support workers. A common thread among these careers appear to be high levels of social interactions with others, performing public service, and working under difficult workplace circumstances.  

How can we improve mental health in the workplace?

  1. Be open to the subject.
  2. Provide flexible working conditions.
  3. Encourage a safe, supportive, and diverse workplace culture.
  4. Provide opportunities for upskilling or training.

1. Be open to the subject.

In HeadsUp’s report on workplace mental health, it was found that environments considered mentally unhealthy had employees who were less likely to seek help for a mental condition, were less likely to provide support to others, and were more likely to avoid disclosing any experiences of mental health in the workplace. 

To combat this, employers must learn to embrace the topic and encourage their workers to do the same. As part of their workplace culture, they should aim to normalise discussions surrounding mental health – perhaps incorporating them in business meetings or seminars.

Companies should demonstrate a strong commitment to supporting mental health by helping managers understand its importance, illustrating (to both workers and managers alike) any action plans they may have for those struggling. 

Lastly, employers should strive to continually educate themselves on the subject of mental health. The more we know about the topic and its driving factors, the better we’ll be at fostering a healthier, happier workplace.

2. Provide flexible working conditions.

middle aged woman working from home

In the modern working world, work-life balance has become an increasingly valuable perk for employees. A flexible job enables one to care for both their professional and personal needs, resulting in happier employees who feel free to juggle all areas of their lifestyle. 

Employment flexibility can be offered in a variety of forms, most popularly through the option of remote work or through flexible working hours. You may even offer options for quieter, more private working spaces for some workers, or provide role opportunities for handling a variety of tasks. 

These adjustable working conditions grant employees with the best environment, schedule, and workload for optimising their skills – leading to greater employee satisfaction, productivity, and working outcomes as a result. 

3. Encourage a safe, supportive, and diverse workplace culture.

A company culture where safety, diversity, and employee camaraderie is valued will surely culminate in better mental health among workers. Encouraging your employees to support one another in both their personal and career development can help build their self-esteem, confidence, and motivation, leading to overall improvement of social and emotional well-being. Happier workers who feel valued in their role will likely be more present in their work and display higher company loyalty. 

Additionally, a study by Google revealed that helping workers feel safe in taking risks or “being vulnerable” around their colleagues promotes an environment of “psychological safety” – a sense of social and emotional support among others that furthers team cohesion and effectiveness.

Your workplace can also benefit from easier access to mental health support programs. Offer employees the option of pursuing any counselling services or support groups you endorse through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP); an intervention program designed to cater to the emotional and psychological needs of workers.

4. Provide opportunities for upskilling or training.

studying online

Finally, never underestimate the extensive benefits of employee training

By funding upskilling opportunities for your employees, or developing training programs within your business, you’re effectively boosting the workplace morale and demonstrating appreciation for your workers and their efforts. When employees are empowered by their higher-ups, they feel far more confident in their work; have clearer goals and a sense of purpose in their role; and exhibit greater company loyalty. 

Through skill-building opportunities, you’re also helping workers advance in their career. Once again, this effectively boosts their motivation and engagement with the job. This grants them a brighter outlook on their future with your business. 

Working towards a mentally healthier workplace.

Promoting an environment of mental health involves plenty of understanding, support, and open communication as a manager. As discussed, these positive changes must start from the company top.

At Upskilled, we offer plenty of qualifications in the business and managerial field, such as the BSB51918 - Diploma of Leadership and Management.

For employers seeking training opportunities for their workers (or if you’re looking to upskill yourself), or catalogue also offers courses in a wide range of other industries, including information technology, community services, or event management. Unlock your leadership potential, and enquire on a course today. 

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