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R U OK? Day: Championing mental health in the workplace
Mental health and wellness in the workplace have become a greater focus for businesses and organisations around the world.
As employers recognise the impact of staff wellbeing on productivity and performance, more companies are putting formalised and innovative programs in place to improve their employees’ health and wellbeing.
The employee mental health challenge has become even more evident following the enforced pandemic lockdowns and subsequent work from home shift that the majority of the workforce underwent – and are still operating in. This means that many of us have been feeling isolated from our offices and teams, which makes it an even more complex environment for businesses to oversee and improve.
Despite business’s best efforts to support their staff and the advanced technologies and systems workplaces have employed, the issue has intensified in recent years rather than seen any improvements. Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Survey found issues related to wellbeing, overwork and burnout have actually grown in the past five years. So there is still plenty of work to be done.
For R U OK? Day this year, 10 September, we share the benefits and key considerations on what companies can be doing better to prioritise employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
What are the benefits of workplace wellbeing initiatives?
Before we look at how to promote mental health in the workplace, let’s first look at why it matters:
- Healthy workers are more productive: A report by the Australian Government found that healthy workers rate their work performance much higher than unhealthy workers.
- Wellbeing programs reduce absenteeism: Recent estimates put the cost of sick days to Australian workplaces at $4.7 billion annually. Harvard researchers examined the cost-saving benefits of wellbeing programs in relation to absenteeism and found that for every dollar spent on wellbeing programs, absenteeism costs fell by $2.73.
- Wellbeing initiatives improve talent acquisition and retention: Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Survey respondents ranked health and wellbeing benefits as one of the most important rewards impacting employee experience.
- Health and wellbeing programs increase employee engagement: A global study found that when employee health and wellness was managed well, employee engagement increased from 7% to 55%, while self-reported creativity and innovation increased from 20% to 72%.
The research demonstrates that health and wellbeing is an organisational responsibility of increasing importance, and a critical strategy in driving employee productivity, engagement and retention.
Job candidates today also expect that their new or prospective companies will provide a framework for mental health and wellbeing support. With this in mind, businesses that want to recruit and retain top talent should strongly consider health and wellness an imperative.
How to make wellness in the workplace a priority
Ensuring employee mental health is recognised, acknowledged and implementing a framework are all critical factors for businesses. Here are five key areas to consider:
1. Get buy-in from leadership
Ensure there’s a clear commitment to mental health and wellbeing from organisational decision-makers. If CEOs, executives, managers and HR are not talking about it regularly with employees, it’s clearly apparent that there is no or low priority for staff mental wellness for the business. The consequences of this can be dire.
2. Create a mental health and wellbeing policy
Outline your company’s dedication to employee wellbeing, how you’ll measure success and what steps you’ll take to achieve your objectives as part of your formal policies. Involve employees in the planning process and show you value their input, both initially and ongoing via regular reviews.
3. Communicate with your employees
Let your employees know the steps you’re taking to prioritise mental health and wellbeing. You should be fostering a transparent, comfortable yet confidential work environment for your staff members to share how they are feeling.
Also, provide them with support resources – both internal and external. Useful hotlines include:
- Beyond Blue – telephone and online support service counselling.
- Lifeline – 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services.
- myCompass – an interactive self-help service that aims to promote resilience and wellbeing for people experiencing mild to moderate stress, anxiety and/or depression.
- SANE Australia – support, training and education on mental illness.
4. Introduce fun and engaging initiatives
Roll out activities and initiatives that promote wellbeing, such as:
- Office or virtual yoga, meditation or stretching sessions
- ‘Giving back’ staff CSR/charity days
- Gym membership discounts
- Fitness challenges and fun runs
- Flexible hours or the option to work from home
- Healthy office snacks
5. Measure your success
Finally, make sure to track the outcomes of your corporate wellness efforts with staff surveys or other metrics. It’s one thing to measure your staff’s mental wellness and happiness but it’s crucial to refine and improve your approach over time.