How to Create a Mentally Healthy Workplace in 2021

create a mentally healthy workplace

Mental health has never been a more relevant topic, with many organisations looking to create a mentally healthy workplace.

A 2020 study by Allianz Insurance shows that in the preceding three years, workplace mental health injury costs rose by 80%. Of course, this was before the latent effects of the global shift that was Covid-19, pushing staff into lockdown and seeing waves of employees either stood down or transitioned into working from home situations, without warning. The effects of isolation, a disrupted routine and sense of purpose, and the fear of an uncertain virus on our psyches will surely be studied for years to come, but it’s clear that action is needed right now.

This article provides links to some resources that you can use to create a mentally healthy workplace as we navigate the continuing stresses of the pandemic.

What is a Mentally Healthy Workplace?

When you set out to create a mentally healthy workplace:

  • mental health is everyone’s responsibility
  • you consider mental health in every way you do business
  • everyone contributes to a supportive culture where people feel safe to talk about mental health
  • you tailor mental health support for individuals and teams
  • everyone can see you’re finding better ways to support workers mental health.

See our article, Develop a Mentally Healthy Workplace.

The Benefits of a Mentally Healthy Workplace

There are some clear and measurable benefits for businesses that create a mentally healthy workplace, including:

  • A decrease in the number of work-related injuries and illnesses
  • A drop in workers’ compensation claims
  • Thriving workers who choose to remain with the business
  • An increase in productivity
  • A decrease in absenteeism
  • An increase in engagement and job satisfaction
  • A reduction in turnover and selection costs
  • An ability to attract top talent

Most businesses are in the people-business and rely on their employees to help them grow and prosper. Flexibility and support are critical drivers for employees to remain working for your business. Therefore, it makes sense to create a mentally healthy workplace to retain your valued employees. After all, you’ve spent time and money sourcing, recruiting, onboarding and training them.

Return on Investment

The Mentally Healthy Workplaces in NSW discussion paper provides an example of the return on investment for businesses that create a mentally healthy workplace. The report uses a hypothetical example of a company that employs 200 staff.

The business would on average incur costs of over $270,000 in mental health-related absenteeism and presenteeism each year, and face a workers’ compensation claim every five years.

If this business spent $9,600 on workplace mental health promotion, it would save $40,000 each year.

For SMEs, the return is $2.86 benefit for every dollar invested, while for large employers, the return on investment increases to $4.01.

See our article, How Can We Grow a Mentally Healthy Workplace?

What are the 3 steps to Create a Mentally Healthy Workplace?

The three steps to create a mentally healthy workplace are:

Step 1: Seek Help 

Encourage employees who are struggling with their mental health where it is now affecting their mental well-being to reach out and seek help. 

To achieve the first step and create a mentally healthy workplace, it is imperative that employees feel that they are in a safe environment so that if they do reach out they do not feel stigmatised. They need to not fear that they might be treated differently, or that they may no longer be considered for promotion or more exciting roles or duties. To achieve a workplace that is not plagued by stigma, policies are the first step to ensure employee rights.

Secondly, mental health needs to be an everyday conversation.

Thirdly, training in mental health first aid for managers might be a good option to educate on the signs and symptoms and the appropriate way to talk to employees who reach out and seek help.

See our article, Does Mental Health First Aid Training Help?

Step 2: Support 

Provide training for your employees around mental health conditions and support those who seek help. 

For most companies looking to support their staff, an Employee Assistance Programme provider is on board, and a wellbeing program might be too. But why not have one holistic solution, one that manages the whole spectrum of employee wellbeing from soft-touch to crisis support? One solution is Active & Thriving with their Employee Protection System (EPS), which flips the script by recognising employees who are struggling and offering them support early. By connecting the continuum of care between promotion, prevention and early intervention, the program is able to assist everyone no matter where they’re at when it comes to their wellbeing and associated needs.

With a rolling calendar of content that coaches participants through a new topic each month, from self-care to nutritional health, participants are kept on their toes with a high-momentum roster of subjects and associated material that has been proven to achieve tangible lifestyle benefits. A combination of individual challenges, team challenges, educational resources and discussion prompts are delivered via existing comms channels and a familiar-feeling social media-style app, achieving a seamless integration into existing workplace processes.

Secondly, employees need training around common mental health issues and to be taught coping strategies they can draw upon when facing difficult situations that impact their mental health. Training should begin at the safety induction where topics such as workplace bullying and sexual harassment should be covered to start the conversation about mental health from day one.

Training should be continued within your ongoing mental health campaigns and well-being programmes to send the message that employee mental health is important and a top priority.

The Tap into Safety Integrated eLearning Platform educates staff on mental health literacy and best practices for safe conduct. The comprehensive library of online employee safety, leadership and mental health training is the intersection between research and technology, championing university-validated results and supporting over 1,000 clients to meet Australian WHS, ISO standards and OSHA compliance.

Step 3: Sustain 

Ensure sustainable best practices to support a mentally healthy workplace.

To ensure ongoing support and mental health and well-being programmes that are effective, data is the key. Many organisations distribute an annual well-being survey, but unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a poor completion rate of as little as 5%.

There are various reasons for this lack of engagement, including the fear that employee answers will be tied to them and this is not an unfounded fear because most employee surveys are distributed to an employee’s email address. Another reason for the poor uptake is that there is an expectation that employee’s responses will not be taken seriously or acted upon and no changes will be made if they provide truthful answers. A final issue with survey responses is they are usually very polarised in their results in that only those who are doing well complete the survey.

However, some data is better than none, and if you take your survey data and combine it with other employee health measures such as BMI scores, healthy eating and stop smoking campaigns, etc. you can begin to build a picture of your workplace’s health.

If you combine this data with that obtained from apps and digital devices, that SafeWork Australia suggest should be mainstream tools in workplace mental health management, including mood trackers, fitness trackers, mental health assessments, etc., then you have a larger data set to help guide your mental health campaigns and target those employees who need the most support. Data helps you to create a mentally healthy workplace.

See our course, Creating a Psychosocially Safe Environment.

To Conclude

Businesses that create a mentally healthy workplace see productivity gains and there is a positive return on investment. In the quickly innovating and emerging sector that is workplace wellbeing, bridging the gap between prevention and crisis support is now possible. It’s simply a matter of prioritising team wellbeing and knowing that by championing the health and wellbeing of your staff, everyone wins.

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