Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

10 July 2017

The topic of mental health is receiving increasing attention in architecture. So, how can you ensure that your practice is safe and healthy? ACA partner Cbus works with SuperFriend to provide knowledge and resources about mental health, some of which is shared below. 

Creating a mentally healthy workplace is vital for any business. It encourages employees to stay well and supports those who are experiencing mental health challenges.

At any point in time, one in six working aged people is living with a mental illness. Beyond that, it’s believed there are more people experiencing mental health challenges ranging from high stress to undiagnosed depression. If your organisation isn’t considering mental health as part of your strategy, you’re falling behind, both in terms of your workplace culture and the costs you’re adding to your business. 

You have a legal obligation to do so

Every business has a legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace. This includes both physical and mental health. Occupational health and safety involves psychological injury prevention.

As your employees have no obligation to disclose their personal experiences with you, it’s impossible to target mental health efforts in the workplace to just those who are affected by mental illness. Instead, a broad approach is required to ensure that your workplace is one that supports and promotes the wellbeing of all employees.

It makes good business sense

Creating a mentally healthy workplace will provide measurable benefits to your business. These include:

  • Reducing absenteeism
  • Increasing employee engagement
  • Improving productivity to result in higher financial performance
  • Lowering workers’ compensation claim and insurance premium costs
  • Increasing motivation, as supportive workplaces inspire employee loyalty

These results are measurable through reviews of incident reports, workers’ compensation claims, patterns of absenteeism and sick leave, staff turnover and complaints. Other possible reviewing methods include gaining employee feedback and observing improvements in work performance and team interaction.

A spokesperson from Safe Work Australia says, ‘Mental illness is one of the leading causes of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia.’ It’s in these costs that you’ll likely notice a strong return on investment when you implement mental health initiatives into your business.

The cost of doing nothing

The mental health literacy of Australian employers has traditionally been quite poor. Employers have hesitated to acknowledge the issues surrounding the psychological health of employees and how this affects the workplace overall. Times are changing, however, and it’s no longer acceptable to turn away from these realities, which include a financial cost of $10 billion per year in stress claims, and $6.5 billion annually to Australian businesses, attributed to a lack of intervention. Doing nothing impedes the success of organisational goals, and creates huge impacts on financial and non-financial workplace factors.

‘If you do nothing, it will not get better; things don’t get better by themselves,’ warns Dr Laura Kirby, Principal Consultant Psychologist with CommuniCorp and facilitator of SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training. ‘If you look at unhealthy working environments from an organisational perspective, there are lots of negative things (such as absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover) that will increase. You need to do something to decrease them.’

It’s the right thing to do

Creating a workplace that has a positive impact on your employees’ mental health is simply the right thing to do. Understand that your employees aren’t infallible; that they will experience struggles during their time working with you. In addition, work can be helpful to those going through challenges if your working environment is positive. 

‘Good work can support and encourage participation for people with non-work-related mental health conditions and can help to improve their mental health,’ explains a Safe Work Australia spokesperson. 

Where to start?

Many businesses find the concept of mental health challenging to deal with. Breaking down the stigma and mystery surrounding mental health at work can be daunting and it can be difficult to know where to begin. But there are several strong actions you can take. 

Conduct a risk assessment

of your workplace, work systems and processes. The assessment should look for hazards and risks that can impact on mental health. Factors such as workload and levels of job control and autonomy should be examined.

Provide supportive leadership

 Being a supportive leader is about having positive day to day interactions and providing your employees with the knowledge that you are approachable and there to assist them.

‘As a leader, your actions can influence the health and wellbeing of the workplace,’ says Dr Kirby. ‘There are different styles of leadership, and the one that’s been proven to be the most beneficial for people in providing a productive workplace is supportive leadership behaviour. You can display these behaviours to increase a sense of support and value in the workplace, making it easier for employees to ask for help when they need it.’ 

Creating a culture of open dialogue, support and early intervention is a major step towards creating a mentally healthy workplace.

‘Be open and understand your role as a supportive leader and provide that positive environment,’ Dr Kirby advises.

Train your managers 

A mentally healthy workplace culture needs to be led from the top of the organisation. With management support, the stigma of mental health can be addressed and employees will be more likely to feel safe in disclosing their struggles seeking support.

This takes some skilful management, and Dr Kirby says research has shown that a supportive leadership style is the most effective on a mentally healthy culture.

‘Having leaders who are not equipped with every-day supportive leadership skills means you’re putting teams at risk,’ she explains. ‘When problems arise, they won’t be addressed and people won’t be supported.’

When problems are ignored, the negative cycle begins.

‘It’s about putting the supports in sooner rather than later. A big focus is equipping managers to have these conversations and know what a healthy working environment looks like, and how they can personally contribute to that.’

Being proactive is key, says Dr Kirby: ‘Giving people the right capabilities is a really proactive strategy, because you’re enabling them to have conversations and create healthy environments so you’re not just removing people from the workplace and putting them into the exact same stressful environment again.’

When managers need to take action, it’s important for them to have the skills, strategies and confidence to do so in a manner that’s appropriate for the situation. This is the basis of SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training, which provides managers with the knowledge and preparation to be proactive towards creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace.

Educate yourself

While you are not required to know the ins and outs of mental illnesses, it is vital to understand how mental health can impact on the workplace. If someone approaches you or discloses a challenge they're experiencing, it's important that you know how you can help them find assistance.

A great place to start is the Resource Centre, an online collection of resources to give you easily-accessible, evidence-based advice and guidance to help you develop mental wellbeing at work. The collection includes the following key features: 

  • The best resources from around Australia, providing you with information on best practices in promoting positive mental wellbeing in your workplace.
  • International resources so you can read from a wide array of reliable, evidence-based sources. For example, 7 Steps to Building a Good Mental Health Culture provides practical, actionable insights to the highly regarded Canadian system.
  • Case studies that show you how and why other local businesses are applying mental health strategies.

These resources will help you to build a workplace environment that is supportive, cohesive and respectful, which ultimately enables workers to be more engaged, positive and effective at work.

The Victorian Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration (comprising SuperFriend, VicHealth and WorkSafe) has created this Resource Centre, and is leading the way in promoting positive mental health in Victorian workplaces.

Other excellent resources include Beyond Blue and Mens Line Australia.

This information is drawn from several articles provided by ACA Partner Cbus and SuperFriend, a national health promotion foundation that helps 'all profit to member' superannuation funds to promote and support improved mental health and wellbeing for their members, through the workplace.

This information provided by SuperFriend is for the purpose of promoting awareness and education about mental health and wellbeing related issues. It does not take the place of any professional medical help, diagnosis or treatment. If you are in crisis, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14

Cbus’ partnership with mental health promotion foundation, SuperFriend, provides member employers with opportunities to create mentally healthy workplaces. Visit www.superfriend.com.au for more information. 

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