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From awareness to action: making mental health a priority for all workplaces

From awareness to action: making mental health a priority for all workplaces

By Jaelea Skehan.

Work is important.  It is the way most of us get the financial resources to live our lives, but it is also the place where we can build confidence, contribute to society and make meaningful connections.

We have seen great momentum here in Australia to promote mentally healthy workplaces, with many people now aware of the human and financial benefits of taking mental health and wellbeing in the workplace seriously.

However, to really change lives as well as build productive and healthy workplaces, we need to move beyond awareness to strategic action.

Taking a proactive approach to mental health in your workplace is a great investment for everyone who is involved in the business.

Whether you are a sole trader or employ hundreds of staff, investing in the mental health and wellbeing of your people is perhaps one of the most important ways to get your business to thrive.

While strategies need to be adapted for specific workplaces, there are some things that every workplace can and should be doing.

Tip 1: Add mental health to your health and safety policies and procedures. It should be integrated with all other policies and not seen as an ‘add on’.  It requires leadership, accountability and involvement at all levels of the business.

Tip 2:  Ensure a good fit between the job and the person doing the job. This helps to prepare people well for the work they need to do. Often stress in the workplace comes from being unclear about your role or not having the right resources and supports to assist people.

Tip 3: Understand the mental health risks for your workplace and put strategies in place to address them. This might include roster lengths or shift rotation and identifying parts of the workforce that may be isolated or disconnected from others.

Tip 4 – Build capacity across the workplace to respond to problems early. This might include training for supervisors and peers to assist with early identification of challenges and building a culture where asking for help and offering help are seen as a positive behaviours.

Tip 5 – Provide clear and accessible pathways to treatment and support for people who need it.  Think about providing a range of options which might include face-to-face support through primary care or an Employee Assistance Program as well as digital programs and peer support.

Tip 6 – Not all people experiencing mental ill-health need to be on leave while accessing treatment and support.  Consider a ‘stay at work’ plan with modified duties and support, developed in partnership with the person and health providers.

Tip 7 – Address stigma in the workplace.  Mental ill-health affects every Australian workplace, large and small. A policy and a plan will achieve nothing if people feel they need to stay silent about their experiences or return to work to averted gazes.

Tip 8 – Lead by example and prioritise your own wellbeing. If you are the owner of a business or a senior leader, think about what you are doing for your own mental health and wellbeing.

In July, I will be chairing a panel at the NSW Safety Conference and Expo in Newcastle, joined by Patrice O’Brien from Beyond Blue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, Andy Wright from Never Not Creative and e-mental health expert Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin from the University of Newcastle.

It is a great opportunity to share insights about what can be done across different industries and workplaces, big and small, to take a proactive and evidence-based approach to workplace mental health.  To make a real difference to mental health and wellbeing we need every person and every workplace to move beyond awareness and to take action.

Secure your seat at this year’s event and see Jaelea and her panel live.