Mental health in the workplace matters

This article highlights the evidence that promoting positive mental health in the workplace is critical for not-for-profit, human services and community enterprise organisations. It also points out some practical ways to address this issue in your workplace.

Fisher Leadership has been helping to find and appoint highly committed and passionate executives in what we collectively term the Social Impact sector for over 15 years. We are continually inspired by the commitment and dedication of the leaders and workers who innovate and support the community through this work. We therefore noted with interest a recently released Future Social Service Institute report that identified the ‘social economy as the fastest growing segment of the Australian labour market, with 250,000 new jobs projected by 2022’.

As we strive to attract more of the exceptionally smart, socially adept leaders needed to join the sector to enable this growth, we are conscious of the need to keep those already there happily in place, motivated and working as effectively as possible.

The problem is that Social Impact sector leaders and workers are some of the most at-risk in terms of mental health problems. Workers who receive compensation for a work-related mental health condition tend to be those who have high levels of interaction with other people, who are often providing a public service and often doing their job in difficult and challenging circumstances (source: www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/topic/mental-health). This is associated with relatively high levels of exposure to abuse, the stresses of disadvantage, constant lack of resources and vicarious trauma.

According to the mentally healthy workplace alliance Heads Up, mental health problems cost Australia $10.9 billion annually (source: www.headsup.org.au). High levels of turnover and loss of productivity caused by mental health issues clearly need to be minimised for both ethical and financial reasons.

A study commissioned by beyondblue from PwC found that on average, every dollar spent to promote good mental health in the workplace reaped a return of $2.30. So, to quote Heads Up –‘The facts are clear: as well as benefiting employees, a mentally healthy workplace is also better for your bottom line’ (source: www.headsup.org.au).

Evidence also suggests that an important way to mitigate mental health risks is to raise awareness of the issue and encourage co-workers to be supportive of each other. Everyone can play a key role in creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace by:

  • demonstrating a visible, active commitment to mental health in the workplace
  • speaking openly about mental health in the workplace (including any personal experiences)
  • making mental health an objective of the business
  • integrating good health and safety management into all business decisions, policies and procedures
  • rewarding managers for maintaining a mentally healthy workplace.

A great initiative aimed at promoting these attitudes and behaviours is R U OK Day, which took place again in September. While mainly focussed on suicide prevention, the aim is to inspire people to start positive conversations every day of the year by asking ‘Are you ok?’ and support those struggling with life.

Like any other organisational challenge, positive mental health needs to be supported from the top down, as well as from the bottom up. We have recently seen courageous leadership in some organisations where with commitment from Board level down has seen them actively addressing cultural engagement and alignment and seen the direct benefit of addressing vicarious trauma and mental health in terms of its positive impact on team morale and productivity.

If you or your organisation would like to benefit from a healthier workplace then we would recommend you look into the range of toolkits and resources available.

Imagine the impact that you and your team can make – even if only for one person – on the mental health of your workplace. Mental health in the workplace matters!

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