In looking around in the business landscape, here are generally two approaches to employee well being in businesses, and none of them give due importance to mental health.
First, companies believe that an employee’s mental health should remain in the personal sphere because we’ve been sold the image of a stoic professional for ages. Work is not a place to show or discuss your emotional, mental and sometimes even your physical challenges.
Second, when employee well-being is touched upon, it’s physical well being that’s at the forefront. Wellbeing initiatives are often manifested in the form of gym memberships, fruit in the lunch rooms and yoga classes. Naturally there are exceptions to these approaches, they are few and far between.
Whilst there is merit is supporting physical wellbeing and preserving professionalism – you can’t park stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues as you head to work each day. Besides, being distracted, unhappy or rendered listless, these mental health conditions are as detrimental if not more to employee productivity as being physically down with a flu, migraine or broken leg.
So what exactly are the pitfalls of spearheading mental health initiatives at the work place?
Changing an established outlook is hard
A profound problem with how we see employees is that we assume everyone’s brain works the same way and that everyone intakes information and processes it synchronously. This consequently gets applied to how one works and how they are managed. It is often a cookie cutter approach due lack of people management skills, workplace processes for standardisation and necessary benchmarks to evaluate performance equally.
An example of this is the notion that longer work hours are directly proportional to productivity is still a benchmark used in business constantly. The general view therefore in most workplace cultures remain that long hours is rather than smart hours has been considered the hallmark of a “good” employee.
But do you really want a so-called “good” employee who’s distracted, anxious and stressed or an efficient employee who implements smart working strategies and ensures proper work life balance?
Identifying and changing an established outlook is hard and often time consuming, but the benefits are definitely worthwhile long term.
Are you practicing what you preach?
Assess if your recommendations and messages are currently aligning with the organization culture and practices. Business often talk about work-life balance but create an environment of unspoken displeasure when an employee heads home on time or takes leave when needed.
This is where you need to play up your transformational leadership skills. Consider this: can you expect your employees or team members to be forthcoming about their all aspects of their wellbeing if they don’t see you practicing what you preach?
A whole lot of attention is paid to knowledge dispersion and awareness generation about workplace mental health, however, this is hardly followed by action. Essentially, this makes employees vastly hesitant to actually leave work on time or apply for a leave when they really need it.
Maintaining work life balance, opting for flexible work schedules and taking a mental health day are practices you need to actively encourage and adopt as an employer or a manager to prompt your employees and team members to follow your lead and enact a change in their life.
Implementing effective change takes time
You can implement generic policies to improve the mental health and fitness of your organisation, but will they be effective? Investing in mental health initiatives is a not a one-size-fits-all solution that you can jumpstart to get on the well being bandwagon. Managers and business leaders need to understand that the key to rooting out a persistent issue is to take a genuine, active interest in it.
Essentially, you have to design a customised strategy for your business based on certain metrics (primarily): average employee productivity, work life balance and number of employees with mental health conditions. Plus, I guess we’ll all agree that you need to tailor the solution according to your industry since work-related mental health issues would vary between a lawyer and a FIFO worker.
The process of implementation and adoption always takes much longer than anticipated. Be prepared for this to take time but will transform the organization for the better.
The National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention revealed how poorly we’re performing as a nation with respect to mental health: 1 in 5 Australians face a mental health condition each year.
Workplace stress affects 73% employees in Australia, who believe unrealistic workload expectations, job insecurity and low team morale are the leading causes of a mentally unfit and unsafe workplace. Moreover, employees who suffer from mental health conditions take at least 5 days off annually because they’re too ill or overwhelmed to be productive at work, which causes significant losses to businesses ($210 billion in a year!).
The solution? Stop paying lip service to your wellness agenda and actively invest in improving your company culture and workplace environment – Barclay’s “This is Me” campaign is a testament to the success of taking an active interest in the mental health of employees!
Do you agree that Australia needs to get mentally fitter? Register yourself, your colleagues and your clients for the Mental Fitness Summit on October 11. Get your tickets here!