Many years ago, I worked for an HR manager who said our personal problems were “a coat that we should hang on the door on our way into the office, to be collected at the end of the day”. I didn’t buy into that idea then and I still don’t today. Fortunately, most employers in 2023 would see that as an outdated approach that puts the wellbeing of the employee at risk.
Working from home trends aside, most people spend too many of their waking hours in the workplace to be expected to put on a mask that conceals problems they are dealing with in their personal life.
That’s why employers need to create an environment where workers feel safe in the knowledge that they can talk about these matters at work and be supported rather than judged.
During October, the South Australian Business Chamber is taking a close look at the mental health and well-being of business owners and employees as part of its annual mental health workplace challenge and mentally healthy business breakfast event.
The initiative is in honour of Mental Health Awareness Month, celebrated worldwide every October. This year, the global theme is to “have a conversation”, encouraging people to openly discuss mental health and personal struggles within their communities.
For some people, the fact their employment is at arm’s length from their personal life, may make having these important conversations with a colleague or manager at work easier than at home. For this to occur, the workplace culture needs to be one where workers feel a sense of belonging and trust. It also needs to have processes in place where significant matters can be confidentially managed in a way that is not detrimental to the worker’s mental health.
Business leaders should also recognise that personal problems may be linked to workplace issues. Work-life balance, bullying, stress, and sexual harassment are among the top issues impacting employees’ mental health, so removing or managing the triggers for these is critical.
It’s the responsibility of business owners and managers to identify and address what’s known as psychosocial hazards in the workplace. Creating a psychosocial safety climate (PSC) is now considered as best practice in this area.
In organisations that deliver a high PSC, the well-being and safety of workers are prioritised and efforts are made to involve workers in designing jobs and programmes that help create a safe and healthy work environment.
There is value in this approach for both the employee and the business.
Evidence suggests that PSC helps deal with work stress and is linked to higher levels of job satisfaction, work engagement and productivity. Productivity is improved as issues that normally impact negatively, such as absenteeism or high turnover, are reduced or eliminated in this environment.
Psychological safety is just as much the responsibility of the employer as physical workplace safety, with equal penalties applicable for operators who neglect to take it just as seriously.
Creating the environment is one thing, but how do we encourage the conversation?
Sharing personal experiences about mental health can build a working environment where people are comfortable seeking the support they need. Talking about mental wellbeing the same way you would physical health also helps. Normalising the conversation can be assisted by staff appreciating the statistics behind the widespread prevalence of mental illness in our community.
Beyond Blue reports nearly 1 in 5 people experiences poor mental health each year, with more than half of all Australians facing such challenges at some point in their lives. Recognising that just like physical illness, mental illness can affect us irrespective of age, job, background or personality is a good start. There is plenty of data available to share with staff to build awareness.
Further educating and training staff on mental health conditions and providing the tools that help them recognise an issue and the next steps to take are equally important.
While mental health in the workplace needs to be managed 365 days of the year, this October, use Mental Health Awareness Month as a catalyst to start the conversation in yours.
To learn more about the South Australian Business Chamber’s mental health workplace challenge during October, or for tickets to South Australia’s Biggest Mentally Healthy Business Breakfast, click here.