What’s mental health got to do with workplaces? Put simply, lots!
Like physical health, mental health is central to how we function and how productive we are at work. It’s also good business. The benefits of a mentally healthy workplace include increased productivity, lower rates of worker turnover, being an employer of choice, retaining workers’ skills and experience and ensuring legal obligations are met.
So what IS mental health? What role does the workplace play in mental health?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’.
Some facts about mental health in Australia: In Australia, 45% of us will experience a mental health condition in our lifetime, many of us in the prime of our working lives.
Seven Australians take their own lives every day, often as a result of undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions. The impact of a death by suicide is enormous: on families, friends, workmates and communities.
Poor mental health costs Australian businesses $10.9 billion every year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.
Price Waterhouse Coopers’ Return on Investment Analysis has identified that for every dollar a business invests in effective mental health initiatives, it receives an average return of $2.30. In the mining sector this rises to $5.70!
There are a number of risk factors in the workplace that can impact workers’ mental health. Heavy workloads; environmental factors such as noise, heat, vibration; lack of leadership; unclear roles and responsibilities are examples.
Mentally healthy workplaces address these risk factors and demonstrate they are mentally healthy in these ways:
- Policies and procedures that are effective and reviewed regularly are in place
- Workers provide feedback and suggest improvements to ways of working
- Regular training is provided, including induction programs and programs to develop workers’ skills
- Workers are consulted about, and involved in decisions that affect them
- Work demands are balanced and workers and managers negotiate the most effective ways to work to get jobs done
- A sense of autonomy and control in the workplace contributes to job satisfaction and fulfilment
- Peer support and mentoring programs are an effective way to build strong teams where workers look out for each other
- Providing mental health awareness programs means that problems can be identified early and help sought
- Talking openly about mental health in the workplace helps workers who may be stressed or struggling with an issue to feel they can talk about it and seek help early.
If you are worried about someone you know, start by having a conversation. Ask if they’re OK. The person will appreciate your respect and sensitivity. Tell the person you’ve noticed they are behaving or talking in ways that are unusual for them. Reassure the person that their privacy will be respected. Ask the person what you can do to help. They may prefer to speak to someone else. Encourage them to do that and let them know you are willing to help if they need it.
For more information about mentally healthy workplaces, contact: www.headsup.org.au For crisis help, call Lifeline 13 11 14 or crisis chat online at www.lifeline.org.au/Get-Help/Online-Services/crisis-chat.
“…every dollar a business invests in effective mental health initiatives, it receives an average return of $2.30. In the mining sector this rises to $5.70!”
Sue Crock is a mental health professional and a coordinator of This FIFO Life, an online website promoting mental health with an online directory of services.