Today (12 September 2019) is R U OK? Day in Australia, the day to ask, “Are you ok?” and support those struggling with life’s ups and downs.
According to a recent report, suicide rates in Australia are sadly on track to increase by 40 percent in the next decade unless risk factors are quickly addressed.
Nicole Gorton, Director of Robert Half Australia, says organisations can facilitate conversations that may help employees in need.
“Employees are the lifeblood of a business, and with mental health issues now costing Australian businesses over $10billion each year, and on the rise (let alone the personal cost), now is the time to be proactive about workplace mental health,” said Ms Gorton.
Research from HeadsUp shows that the number of Australian employers requesting time off work because they felt mentally unwell is on the rise, with 21% of Australian employees requesting such time off work in 2018. While it will never be possible for employers to control all the factors that contribute to happiness at work, these findings suggest that Australian business can certainly do more to create the right conditions to foster a positive working environment that addresses psychological stress head on. Supporting peers and teammates not only creates a supportive and healthy community at work, it can have a cumulative impact on the business overall. It is important for organisations to step up and proactively value their staff’s mental health by providing the appropriate resources and policies to support their employees and normalise the provision of help.
“There is a clear connection between workplace stress and an individual’s mental wellbeing, so it is critical that businesses look at how they can help their employees,” said Ms Gorton.
“Across industries and organisations, we’ve seen positive steps being taken to manage the effects of stress, particularly through the growth of workplace wellness initiatives or the provision of resources for support like Employee Assistance Programs. However, more preventative action needs to be taken on an organisational level to mitigate the drivers of stress, which involves management of office morale, the regulation of workloads, or ensuring manageable working hours are enforced.”
“Business leaders have a critical role to play in looking after their teams’ mental health by driving these initiatives as well as encouraging open communication and positive relations within their team, all of which are integral to creating cultivating a positive working environment that places their employee’s wellbeing front and centre.”
Steps for improving mental health in the workplace
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (if budgets permit it).
- 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. Ultimately, happiness is an individual experience, however a positive, healthy workplace environment that empowers and appreciates their employees and offers a sense of comradery is a good starting point. The benefits will be seen in better quality work, and significant improvements in recruitment and retention.
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.