Managing people

Making mental wellbeing a priority in your small business 

2020 has been a stressful year for employers and employees alike, with the Coronavirus pandemic creating unprecedented uncertainty and challenges for businesses across all industries.

The term ‘mental wellbeing’ is thrown around a lot but what does it mean to provide mental wellbeing measures for your team and why does it matter?

Black Dog Institute workplace engagement manager Leighton Hellem-Williams weighs in on the importance of fostering a supportive workplace environment and offers some tips on how best to do so.

Making mental wellbeing a priority

Looking out for your employees’ physical safety in the workplace is not only a no-brainer, but it’s also the law.

A raft of regulations and guidelines exist to ensure workers are protected from hazards and harm in the course of their duties. They range from the mandated use of protective clothing and footwear, through to measures to reduce the risk of manual handling injuries.

Taking steps to protect your employees’ mental wellbeing is every bit as important, if not more so, according to Hellem-Williams.

“It doesn’t matter how many physical safety protocols are put in place if we’re not able to be mentally present or mentally safe,” Hellem-Williams explains. “Looking after how something is physically done is irrelevant if that person is not well enough to do their job that day.”

Reducing the stigma

One in five Australians experience a mental illness in any year and almost half of us will suffer from a mental illness in our lifetime. In the past few months, it has become clear that the situation has been exacerbated by the Coronavirus crisis.

75% of Australians say their mental health has worsened since the pandemic struck, according to a survey conducted by the Black Dog Institute in mid-2020.

Some businesses have mental health policies and Employee Assistance Programs in place which provide free access to confidential counselling to support employees’ professional and personal wellbeing.

While that’s a solid start, they’re more likely to be effective if employees are actively encouraged to access them, Hellem-Williams says.

Despite the prevalence of mental illness, many people still perceive there to be a stigma associated with undergoing treatment or therapy and, as a result, can be reluctant to reach out for support – especially in the workplace.

“With reactive services like counselling, there needs to be a focus on the fact that when people utilise them, they’re doing exactly what we want them to do,” Hellem-Williams says.

“We want people to look after themselves. Putting measures in place to help them do so is about recognising the human nature of employees and the fact that we’re holistically caring for people as human beings.”

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The business benefits of better mental wellbeing

Better mental wellbeing is also good for business. Employees who are mentally well and feel looked after are more productive than those who are left to struggle on alone.

Having a reputation for supporting your workforce can also help you become an employer of choice and reduce your employee churn rate, resulting in significant bottom-line savings over the long term.

Black Dog Institute’s training programs which teach managers how to facilitate employees’ return to work after taking mental health leave deliver a $10 return on each dollar spent.

“Making reasonable adjustments to enable affected employees to resume their duties and check up on them – for example through something as simple as a phone call while they’re away – to demonstrate care and support, can be really effective,” Hellem-Williams says.

“It’s difficult to measure all the positive outcomes associated with showing humanity and treating people well.”

Educating your leaders

Educating your leadership team can ensure your organisation is ready to step in when employees are struggling. Individuals with people management responsibilities are well placed to notice behavioural changes and guide employees to support mechanisms.

“Your line managers have the most influence and reach and touch the most people,” Hellem-Williams says. “They know employees well enough to see the signs and symptoms that something’s not right and they have the power to support people through adjustments. That’s why it’s important they know the support programs and mechanisms that are available, inside and out.”

And getting leaders up to speed need not be a major financial impost. Black Dog Institute’s Managing for Team Wellbeing workshops offer five hours of training for a group of up to 20 managers, for $3,450. If your business is in New South Wales Safe Work NSW will cover the cost for businesses in that state, with fewer than 200 employees until March 2021. 

Meanwhile, HeadsUp provides a wealth of free resources to help business owners promote better mental health in the workplace.

Individuals looking to boost their resilience and wellbeing can educate themselves via Black Dog’s HeadGear app, which offers a free, 30-day mental fitness challenge.

Supporting your employees’ mental wellbeing isn’t only good for them, it’s good for business too. Investing time and money on measures to support them through life’s challenging periods may be one of the best investments you can make.

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