What better time than RU OK? Day on Thursday 9 September 2021 to talk about mental health at work. Mental health affects everyone around the world, and it is the responsibility of both managers and employees to play a critical role in creating a healthy workplace.
Given that many individuals spend a great deal of time at work each day, the workplace can significantly influence an employee’s mental health. By focusing on having a safe and inclusive work environment you are more likely to maximise your workforce’s potential.
Aside from meeting your WHS requirements to provide an environment that is both safe and healthy physically and mentally, Safe Work Australia points out that creating an environment that supports and promotes the wellbeing of employees is an ethical responsibility.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health is about wellness rather than illness – it is not merely the absence of a mental health condition. Heads up go on to say that mental health exists on a range from positive, and wholesome to severe symptoms of mental health conditions at the other. A person’s mental health varies along this range during their lifetime, in response to different stressors and circumstances.
And according to the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, “mental health is a positive concept related to the social and emotional wellbeing of people and communities. The concept relates to the enjoyment of life, ability to cope with stress and sadness, the fulfilment of goals and potential, and a sense of connection to others.”
Your employees look to you for leadership, support, and guidance. As a leader, here are some things you could do to promote, influence, and support positive mental health:
There’s an expectation that you are resilient and positive as a leader, but this doesn’t always make us relatable. Be honest about your own mental health struggles – from my experience I’ve found that being authentic allows the development of trust and openness.
Leading by Example
Showing your employees that you are taking care of yourself is essential to leading by example. Share what you are doing – for me it’s taking a walk in the middle of day and admiring the birds in my area. In team meetings, I start off with everyone sharing their highlights and lowlights for the week.
And staying off my email when I am having a day off (there’s always the Send Later feature.)
Go beyond “How are you?”
Instead of asking the simple question “How are you doing?”, try to ask more specific questions. Recap the lowlight and highlight of their day. You could also ask what support would be helpful from you or any deadline challenges they’re facing right now that may need your attention.
If you sense that the employees are not comfortable answering your questions, acknowledge their response and reassure them of support.
When someone shares their struggles, you are not expected to have the answers. Instead of offering advice on how to fix it, listen actively and show compassion. If a follow up is needed or it’s outside your expertise, seek some support yourself before discussing again with them later.
Do not make assumptions
To create a safe and beneficial relationship between employees, it’s important not to make assumptions about what they need. After all, as individuals we’re likely going through different things at different times – which is why you should check in with them regularly. You may establish an initial support plan but that could change over time so reassessing often will help the situation remain positive.
Be flexible to support them and realistic as to what is possible for you and the organisation. If you commit to something, be sure to deliver!
Communication is key
An unfortunate history of stigma and shame around mental health has prevented many people from seeking support, so normalise talking about it in your workplace. It may be awkward or difficult at times but it’s worth the effort.
As a leader, don’t underestimate the importance of keeping your team updated. Your employees should be talking about what you are saying to them and not what you aren’t saying. Provide updates as they happen with organisational changes or business strategy updates depending on their level in the company. But don’t assume that they won’t care about it because chances are, if it affects them then they will want to know more.
Above all, ensure your employees are aware of mental health resources available to them. These can range from company supported programs or external support from phone lines, websites, and their GP. And share it often. Remember: informed employees are engaged employees.
Are you okay?
R U OK? wants to inspire and empower everyone – no matter who they are or where they live – to meaningfully connect with people around them. They want Australians feel empowered that every day is an opportunity for kindness, support, and care when someone sees another person struggling.
LMHR can help you develop practical and effective strategies or coach you to promote and influence positive mental health. If you’re ready to take the next step in your business, we can help. HR can be painful. Our team of HR experts do the heavy lifting, so you can focus on running the show. Get help now. Contact us today!
The below helplines can provide the support for you or someone in your workplace:
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Relationships Australia 1300 364 277
Lifeline 13 11 14