There’s a considerable focus on strategies to help workplaces dealing with mental health issues and the pandemic is placing pressure on them to do more. In the past, the focus has been on establishing that supporting the mental health of our employees is actually a workplace issue, rather than placing that in the realm of the individual’s personal responsibility. Today, we are keen to learn what organisations are doing to support worker mental health, why they are doing it and their experiences of managing mental health issues in their workplace.
Some workplaces take extensive initiatives to support worker mental health, others do very little. Some have robust mentally-healthy workplaces, others have a long way to go. Many encounter barriers along the way as well as achieve varying results.
For this article, we look at some research, published last year, that investigates how Australian workplaces are dealing with mental health, the range of initiatives they are using and the barriers they encounter when introducing support programmes.
Three Activities You Can Do to Support Good Mental Health
Organisations can be proactive in their approach to supporting good worker mental health. There are three activities that you can use when dealing with mental health issues. You should look at activities that:
- Prevent harm at work, e.g., job design.
- Promote positive aspects of the workplace, e.g., positive psychology interventions and human resource management practices and policies
- Are specifically designed to address mental health as they occur at work, e.g., mental health first aid training, employee training on coping strategies, and employee assistance programmes.
See our article, Best Manager Actions for Employee Mental Health.
What Triggers Organisations to Use These Activities?
There are both proactive and reactive reasons why organisations use the three activities when dealing with mental health issues. These include:
- The occurrence of a previous workplace incident, e.g., stress claim, that indicates that characteristics of the work or workplace are contributing to mental health concerns
- An increase in WorkCover and insurance premiums due to a high level of claims
- The presence of a clear business case for addressing mental health, e.g., the occurrence of a workplace incident that requires new approaches, or rising costs
- Increased awareness of mental health issues through legislation and awareness campaigns, e.g., the Model WHS Act requires organisations to provide a mentally healthy workplace and ISO 45001:2018 has a similar requirement to meet the international standard
- Increased awareness due to the use of internal or external consultants.
See our article, Develop a Mentally Healthy Workplace.
What are the Most Common Workplace Mental Health Initiatives?
The study finds that there is a range of initiatives that Australian businesses use when dealing with mental health issues. The four most common are:
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
- Mental health awareness days, e.g., RUOK day
- Mental health first-aid training
- Organisation-wide meetings that include discussion of mental health issues.
Other initiatives include:
- Adopting an organisation-wide focus on physical and mental health, i.e., a workplace health programme
- Provision of information on mental health to staff
- Appointment of a staff member to coordinate well-being and mental health
- Sponsoring community efforts to address mental health
- Developing a supportive culture to support employee mental health
- The introduction of social activities focussed on well-being and mental health.
What Factors Facilitate the Introduction of These Initiatives?
Several factors facilitate the introduction and continued use of initiatives to support employees who are dealing with mental health issues. The most important factors are:
- The personal commitment of an organisational leader in improving the organisation’s response to mental health. This can stem from direct or indirect personal experience
with mental health challenges
- Developing a clear business case for implementing mental health activities
- An organisational culture that is aligned with or fits mental health activities
- Activities to develop leaders who know their people and so can identify any mental health issues that develop
- An appropriate budget to allow activities to be conducted to address employee mental health.
See our article, Which Mental Health Theme Will You Use Next?
What Barriers Hinder The Uptake of These Initiatives?
Several barriers prevent the uptake of initiatives to support employees and companies dealing with mental health issues. These include:
- Stigma about mental health
- Managerial reluctance in dealing with employee mental health issues
- A lack of engagement by individual employees or groups of employees with the organisation and/or mental health activities
- Understanding how to access mental health assistance beyond an EAP
- A lack of internal capability and knowledge of mental health
- Within diverse workforces, differing cultural attitudes to talking about mental health.
Stigma is the most frequently identified as a barrier to seeking mental health care. It leads to avoidance to seek help and negatively impacts treatment outcomes. Stigma can take three forms:
- Public Stigma – where a person is aware of the stereotypes attached to people who use mental health services
- Self Stigma – where a person applies public stigma stereotypes to themselves
- Label Avoidance – where a person refuses to acknowledge their symptoms or participate in mental health services because they fear negative consequences may arise if they receive a formal diagnostic label.
The most common barriers to seeking help associated with stigma are:
- Confidentiality – the fear that someone would find out that the person is receiving treatment
- Negative career impact – the fear that receiving treatment and key people coming to know about it at work would jeopardise their promotion opportunities
- The judgement of co-workers – no longer being treated the same by colleagues.
See our article, Stigma and Barriers to Mental Health Care.
Three Areas Where We Can Improve
Some companies are well-progressed in developing a mentally-healthy workplace and are adept at dealing with mental health issues. Others have a great deal of work to do. However, there are three areas we can all improve:
- Continue to reduce stigma around mental health
- Focus on continuous improvement in managing employee mental health issues
- Increase awareness of employee mental health in the workplace.
See our article, 3 steps to a mentally healthy workplace.
How Can Tap into Safety Help?
What can you do to increase mental health literacy for all other employees so they know when to reach out and seek help for themselves or a co-worker?
Part of an integrated approach to workplace mental health training is including online and mobile-based solutions such as the Tap into Safety Mental Health Training. Our training is aimed at the employee and helps them to increase their mental health literacy by providing animated stories on workplace stressors that can impact their mental health. Our training teaches valuable coping strategies they can use when dealing with mental health issues.
Within the Tap into Safety solution, employees are encouraged to seek help. Organisations can also access data to identify staff groups with mental health issues early on.
For businesses investing in workplace mental health, Tap into Safety Mental Health Training Solution helps by intervening early to support worker mental health through providing relevant and interactive workplace wellbeing training.
Our clients have experienced a 100% increase in help-seeking activities since using the Tap into Safety Mental Health Training, as part of their wellbeing program. By tackling the stigma head-on and encouraging help-seeking early, organisations can reduce the escalation of serious stress claims.
Strategically placing staff trained in mental health within identified groups with declining mental health could start to see an improvement in the mental health of your organisation.
This article is also available on the Tap into Safety podcast.