With good reason, Australian workplaces have historically been preoccupied with physical health and perhaps considered mental health and wellness to be a discretionary item. The workplace is a prime location for mental health prevention and interventions, but strategies need to be tailored to the values of individuals and the organisation alike. Over a five-year period from 2012 to 2016, the average number of suicide deaths per year in Australia was 2,795. Each year, around 10,000 people in Australia will have a serious work-related mental stress claim. In comparison, 3.6 million Australians are affected by mental illness each year. So, should this still be considered discretionary?
Managing mental health in the workplace is not as simple as applying a risk management approach of ‘identify, assess, control and review’ – like it can be with physical risk factors. Long hours, tight deadlines, and ever-increasing demands can leave you feeling worried, drained, and overwhelmed. And when stress exceeds your ability to cope, it stops keeping you on the ball and starts causing damage to your mind and body-as well as to your job satisfaction. The cost of absenteeism in Australia is estimated at $7 billion each year, while the cost of presenteeism (not fully functioning at work because of medical conditions) is nearly four times more at $27 billion.
Mental health may be uncomfortable, with people unsure of how to approach a colleague who may be showing signs of being unwell. It can be extremely difficult for people to seek help from loving family and friends and even in the inner sanctum of tight knit sporting environments, where teammates would do anything to protect you, let alone speaking up in a workplace.
So how can business leaders ensure their workplace is an environment where people feel comfortable to respectfully, appropriately and tactfully check in with those around them? If someone reaches out, would it be handled with compassion and professionalism?
In our view, the organisation must explicitly align their values with a wellness framework to promote a work environment where it is OK to not be OK, where wellness is able to flourish.
Identifying strategic pillars for a wellness framework provides a sensible approach and can demonstrate how individual and organisational resilience can be continually improved. This framework goes along way towards exercising due diligence in this area.
Wellness frameworks can build cohesive teams and improve the quality of workplace relationships. This is important in helping individuals to recover from emotional distress, so they feel as though they can bring themselves to work. Just as importantly, a flourishing and healthy workforce creates value for the organisation and so the ROI is there for investments in wellness.
The development of robust, meaningful and effective procedures, and training in these areas can be extremely effective and worthwhile. As an example, programs such as Mental Health First Aid, have shown to be very effective in maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.
Broad, creative and measurable initiatives can:
- help to understand the effects work is having on the emotional state of individuals
- identify who is vulnerable
- reduce the risk of psychological injury.