06 Jan Mental Health in the Workplace
In recent years, society has begun to recognise that mental health is a continuum rather than being a division between the mentally ‘healthy’ and the mentally ‘ill’. There is also a greater acceptance that investing in workplace mental health programs pays dividends. According to PWC and Beyond Blue’s 2014 report, ‘Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace’, a return on investment of $2.30 on every dollar spent to effectively enhance workplace mental health can be expected.
The question is, what constitutes an effective investment in workplace mental health? There is a wide range of services out there, including EAP providers, occupational psychologists, OHS providers, trainers and management consultants… all of whom offer something slightly different or in a slightly different way.
So what are some of the options for delivery?
There are a number of great off-the-shelf workplace mental health workshops already on the market. Offerings by Beyond Blue, Sane Australia, Black Dog Institute and other organisations are a good way to start the mental health conversation in the workplace.
Bespoke Mental Health Programs
Designing a mental health program specifically for your workplace can help to address issues which are specifically affecting your staff or reflect your organisation’s profile. It also means that you can design multiple interventions for maximum impact. Evidence suggests that multiple targeted actions will yield the best results.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
Most large organisations have EAPs to assist staff through difficulties, be it work-related or personal. Providing access to an EAP is beneficial in that it provides employees with a confidential service to address issues and, given that the cost is worn by the employer, provides some implicit assurance of their worth to the organisation. The downside can be where managers use EAP access to avoid talking about anything ‘difficult’ with their staff. Sometimes an open and supportive discussion with a skilled line manager will provide a better (and less expensive) outcome for all.
Gym Memberships/Exercise Programs
The benefit of exercise based programs is that they tackle physical and mental health in one offering. The down side is that they can be expensive and under-utilised. For certain workforces however, they are a great fit – especially for those high pressured but sedentary environments.
There are plenty of other options – including onsite massages/physiotherapists, team and personal development, team social time, peer support groups and so on. It is really about finding the best fit for your workforce.
As with many such programs, a commitment from top to bottom of the organisation is essential. To achieve benefits, you must first achieve participation. Participation needs to be driven by all levels, not just the top or the middle. PWC found that in larger organisations, widespread participation is harder to achieve, and therefore needs to be tackled on a team or department basis. Achieving engagement and participation in what you choose is the first step on the path.
What to avoid
In my experience, some workplace mental health interventions are perfunctory. Psycho-education is important, however on its own it is not a long term solution mental health issues at work. By that I mean, it is much more important to build up a sense of community and support in a workplace than for employees to be able to name three symptoms of anxiety.
So what does a mentally healthy workplace look like?
There are many ways to assess the mental health of a workplace: by the satisfaction of its people, their productivity, the organisation’s bottom line and beyond. It is best divided into qualitative and quantitative indicators.
- Decreased absenteeism
- Improved productivity
- Less numerous and less significant workers’ compensation claims
- Average or less staff turnover
- A more connected workplace
- Good self-care and care for colleagues
- Collaboration and cooperation
- Increased resilience in times of change or stress
- More open discussion