Prioritising mental health in the workplace

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I was watching the news the other day and a feature about a near-fatal construction accident came up. A worker had not been careful and had fallen down several floors because certain wooden planks hadn’t been fastened properly. The news anchor went on to describe details of the incident.

“Reports say that the employee is in critical condition and is being treated at the local hospital’s emergency unit. Later in the evening, relevant parties from the construction agency told the media that the employee may have been grappling with mental health issues in the past few months.”

That news item caught my attention and it stayed with me past dinner and well into bedtime. I couldn’t stop wondering if the accident could have been averted entirely if the company had been actively involved in guiding this employee through the mental health challenges they were facing.

Even with increasing awareness and governmental policies imposed to safeguard employee mental health in the workplace, how is it that many of us are still struggling - often silently - with mental health challenges and poor stress management at work?

Creating awareness and eliminating even unconscious, subtle forms of stigma are not enough anymore. We’ve been doing that for years now and we’re still nowhere close to where we need to be.

So, how can you foster better mental health in the workplace?


The state of mental health in the workplace in Australia

According to a study released last year by a leading, national mental health organisation, it was reported that half of all Australian workers have experienced a mental illness, with 43% of them even reporting that their conditions were the result of workplace conditions.

This means that despite an increase in awareness of these issues, mental health remains a major challenge for employers. The study also reported that one of the major factors for this state of mental health is workplace stress that regularly results in unhappy employees and an increase in employee turnover.

The financial impact of poor mental health in the workplace is another force to contend with. With approximately $543 million paid in compensation to 7200 Australians each year for work-related mental health conditions, the cost of poor mental health in the workplace, to the economy, is a staggering $17 billion each year.

The study went on to list the top three industries with the highest reported issues as manufacturing, public administration and safety, and construction. What’s more surprising to me is that despite positive, national conversations about the benefits of mental wellbeing, almost 57% of workers have reported that they haven’t seen substantial action taken to improve mental health at work.

Reportedly, only 15% of respondents felt they were receiving adequate support in the workplace. As a facilitator of programs and conversation on stress management and better health and wellbeing at work, this was astounding.


Proactively addressing workplace stress

If you’re at the decision-making level in your company, it’s important that you consider how you can ease workplace stress and support mental health needs meaningfully.

Although you can’t manage everyone’s stress, you can create a more supportive and positive environment and reduce potential triggers to ensure that your teams feel like they have the support they need.

To counter the effects of stress in the workplace, consider offering more flexibility when it comes to non-urgent deadlines and encourage improved work-life balance. You could also allow flexible working arrangements or flexibility in individual work schedules. Another idea would be to regularly assess the mental health needs of employees and take complaints seriously when they arise.

Encourage employees to make suggestions for improvement. You could also make mental health training mandatory for all employees and offer more support for employees that report certain challenges.


Providing mental health information and resources

As mentioned earlier, you can’t solve everyone’s problems, but you can provide the right support systems. Giving employees information and resources that educate them on how to manage their mental health can be a positive step forward and a sustainable way of making sure they’re healthy.

One of the more evidence-based approaches to this is the practice of mindfulness. Centred on the basis of attention and acceptance, mindfulness helps employees manage their workplace stress by accepting their experiences and feelings purposefully and non-judgmentally.


Make mental health a priority in your workplace with Awakened Mind

If you want to reduce turnover and improve employee wellbeing, satisfaction, and productivity, prioritising mental health in the workplace is one of the best ways to go about this.

Awakened Mind is a mindfulness resource that is designed to support mental health in the workplace. Use our powerful and structured mobile app to learn more about mindfulness resources that make a difference.