The benefits of a mentally healthy workplace

The benefits of a healthy workplace are well documented. But, as we mentioned in our recent blog about the most important HR trends for 2017, the need to create a mentallyhealthy workplace is becoming increasingly important too.

After all, statistics show that at any time one in five employees will be experiencing a mental health condition. The high percentage of workers suffering from mental health conditions is costing Australian employers $10.9 billion every year.

Arguing the business case for a mentally healthy workplace

That means the business case for a mentally healthy workplace is a strong one.

Research by Pricewaterhouse Coopers shows that for every dollar you spend improving the mental health of your staff, you can expect a return on investment (ROI) of 2.3.

Taking a proactive approach to mental health also builds your reputation as an employer of choice, helping you recruit and retain the best and brightest people.

Research by Instinct and Reason found that three-quarters of Australian employees say a mentally healthy workplace is important when looking for a job.

A mentally healthy workplace can also help your bottom line when it comes to avoiding legal disputes too. That’s because all employers must comply with certain laws, including:

  • Discrimination: The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 says that employers cannot discriminate against or harassworkers with a disability. This includes  mental health conditions. Employers are also required to make reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of workers with mental health conditions.
  • Work health and safety: Work health and safety legislation compels employers to make their workplace both physically and mentally safe and healthy, as far as practicable.
  • Privacy: Privacy legislation says employers cannot disclosea worker’s mental health status without that person’s consent.
  • Fair work: Under Commonwealth industrial law employers are forbidden from taking adverse action against a worker because of their mental health condition.

Most importantly, showing a genuine personal interest and concern for the mental well-being of your people translates to an authentic people-focussed culture, and that’s a benefit money can’t buy!

 What does a mentally healthy workplace look like?

So if there are strong business reasons for developing a mentally healthy workplace, the next logical question is what exactly does a mentally healthy workplace mean?

A mentally healthy workplace goes well beyond simply having a positive workplace culture. It’s about asking the question when you notice someone has not been themselves. It’s about staff being able to speak openly about their mental health and feel supported. It’s about potential risks to mental health being actively managed. It’s about ensuring that workplace practices and expectations are not contributing to a detrimental environment. And it’s about having the right support in placewhen an employee presents with a mental health condition.

And the clearest way you can demonstrate this kind of environment is by doing the right thing when an employee is suffering from a mental health condition.

What to do when an employee is suffering from a mental health condition

When a staff member experiences a mental health condition, it can affect the entire team. Without clear communication from managers, there’s a risk that colleagues may judge the person to be ‘slacking off’ or not pulling their weight.

It’s no wonder then that many people experiencing anxiety or depression are concerned about their colleagues’ reactions

On top of this, the privacy legislation says that you must protect the employee’s right to privacy, which means you may need to communicate what’s going on without providing specific details of their condition. So discretion is key.

Making reasonable adjustments to improve mental health

The Disability Discrimination Act says you need to make reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of any worker suffering from a mental health condition. The first port of call with this is a discussion with the worker themselves.

When you’re speaking to them it’s important to avoid making assumptions about what someone with depression or anxiety will find challenging in the workplace. Instead, focus on helping them identify their own stressors and potential difficulties. Then work through solutions together.

Just as importantly, talk about their strengths and what they enjoy about their job – and look for ways to bring this out in your plan to improve their mental health.

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