Creating a mentally healthy workplace

2019-10-31T16:18:14+11:00

We spend a big chunk of our time at work. And even when we’re not physically at work, the connected age we live in means the lines between our job and home are increasingly blurred.

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Combined with all sorts of other modern pressures, from financial worries to the more transient nature of work today and decreased job security, it's not surprising that the incidences of workplace anxiety, stress and depression are at high levels.

Work-related mental health issues are a big concern for Australian organisations because of the negative impact it can have on the business from increased absenteeism and low productivity, to attracting and retaining staff, and the risk of high compensation payouts to employees.

More and more businesses are recognising the importance of making the mental wellbeing of their people a priority, actively adopting strategies to create a workplace culture that is enjoyable to be part of, with management that is ready to listen to and provide support to staff when they need it.

"The mental health message is permeating into workplaces," said psychologist Philip Carr, from Newcastle-based health services provider Hunter Primary Care.

"There's more publicity around these sorts of issues with national campaigns like RUOK and Mental Health Awareness Month in October, and the more evidence-based approach to work culture is that mental health needs to be at the forefront, particularly with management.

"Organisations are realising the value of creating a good supportive culture within their business. At the end of the line - for the bottom line - there's improved productivity, improved retention, less sick days.

"Research shows that the investment you make in creating a mentally healthy workplace gets paid back in multiples by having workers who feel connected versus those who are disengaged, jaded and cynical.

"And nowadays people are much more invested in the notion of wanting to work in a place that's not toxic, it's not all about remuneration."

So what are the steps to creating a mentally healthy workplace?

Mr Carr said the process begins at the top but that everybody in a workplace has a responsibility and can play a part, by looking after their colleagues and their own mental health.

"There are lots of strategies that can be used in workplaces to promote positive mental health - things like promoting awareness campaigns like RUOK Day, and providing information for staff about where they can get help and support, or providing counselling," Mr Carr said.

"Also working to improve the understanding of mental health in the workplace, and reducing the stigma around mental health issues so people are willing to put their hand up and say yes I'm having some problems here.

"Mentally healthy workplaces have a few things in common - they have a positive workplace culture where everyone's encouraged and supported, stress and other risks to mental health are taken seriously and managed, and people with mental health conditions are supported.

"It starts with the leaders of the business, with the CEO and down through the management team being engaged and modelling that their staff's mental health is important, that it's not just tokenism, and that they are genuinely committed to providing a mentally healthy workplace."

You'll find plenty of tips for creating mental health supporting workplaces at the Heads Up website.

If you are having personal difficulties you can contact Lifeline(13 11 14) or beyondblue (1300 22 4636).

Rosie Ryan, Newcastle Herald