Mental health impacts in Australian business

The Problem

It is becoming more and more evident that the mental health status of your employees will inevitably have an impact on your business.  According to the ABS National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, around 1 in 5 adults in Australia will experience a mental illness in any given year. This means that it is highly likely that you’ve witnessed or are soon to experience its impact within your workplace.

So, what does this mean for you and your business, and how can you support employees to ensure you are managing this very real risk?

How to identify mental health issues in your team

Symptoms of poor mental health can vary and having the knowledge to identify these is one of the first steps in providing adequate support to your employees. Symptoms might look like arriving late, avoiding social activities, sitting alone at lunch, absenteeism, becoming aggressive or short-tempered, erratic behaviour or being easily upset. It may show up in all of these, some of these, or different symptoms altogether. Having sufficient awareness to identify these signs, can empower leaders to start a conversation with the team member to ensure they are getting the support they need. In these conversations, leaders might consider starting the off by asking some of the following questions;

  • Is it a good time to check in with you?
  • How have you been?
  • Is there anything you want to talk about?
  • Are you receiving adequate support?
  • How can we further support you?

It’s important to remember that if the employee doesn’t want to talk about their situation, that’s OK too. The key is to let them know that you are there for them when and if they are ready.

How do mental health issues impact your organisation?

This can happen in a variety of forms and can have an impact at an individual, team and organisational level. To break it down, mental health issues with your leadership teams may result in;

  • Unmotivated teams – motivation starts at the top so if your leaders aren’t motivated to work, why would your teams be?
  • Lack of focus – we all have moments where our attention can drift, but it can also be a result of a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety.
  • Short-tempered with teams – outbursts and irritability with team members can have a flow-on effect and result in an unsafe work environment for the rest of the team (and therefore the potential to increase workplace injury claims – which is a huge risk to the business!)

When it comes to you employees mental health issues may result in;

  • Increased absenteeism – absenteeism results in increased workload for co-workers, decreased productivity for teams and increased costs for the business.
  • High staff turnover – this has a huge financial cost for the business. It has a direct impact on revenue and profitability and increases costs on recruitment and the time investment spent recruiting and training new talent.
  • Negative impact on productivity – according to the University of Oxford, happy workers are 13% more productive, so those with poor mental health will undoubtedly be less productive.
  • Increase in associated costs – According to Black Dog Institute, mental illness (such as depression and anxiety) cost Australian businesses approx. $11 billion dollars annually as a result of reduced work performance, increased turnover rates, absenteeism and increased compensation claims.

What can your business do to support its employees?

Supporting your employees with their mental health is not only the right thing to do from a moral perspective but is essential to the success of the team and the organisation as a whole. As a leader, you should already have many of the competencies it takes to provide this level of support including empathy, vulnerability, emotional intelligence and risk mitigation. Regardless of whether the employee’s poor mental health is a result of personal circumstances, as a workplace, you have an OH&S obligation to take necessary steps to ensure that the working environment doesn’t exacerbate their condition.

This can be achieved by introducing strategies to acknowledge and support team members. Let’s make it very clear that a strategy is not holding a “mental health day” once a year, celebrating with a morning tea and then not taking action again for another 12 months. A wellness strategy is a long-term, robust and ongoing plan that is embedded into your organisational culture as a promise and commitment to all employees to show up for them when needed.

With that said, I have broken down the strategies into short-term and long-term options to distinguish between things that can be implemented almost immediately, and those that take some time to establish.

Short-term strategies

  • Provide an EAP service available for your employees to use in times of crisis.
  • Conduct regular check-ins between leaders and team members.
  • Conduct a mental well-being risk assessment to identify potential risks.
  • Have a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.
  • Implement a robust mental well-being policy.
  • Give consideration to the physical work environment – plants, plenty of natural light, the option of a standing desk and social meeting spaces.

Long-term strategies

  • Conduct workplace training to foster a culture of support and inclusion – this can be done at a leadership level and employee level.
  • Train leaders to identify symptoms of poor mental health at early stages – this can be done by training them in Mental First Aid. Gaining leadership buy-in will be crucial to the success of your strategies.
  • Speak openly about mental health across the organisation to remove any stigma or feeling of taboo.
  • Treat mental health as you would physical health – consider it in all of your policies, procedures and business decisions.
  • Allow for flexible working conditions to promote mental health.
  • Implement mental health first responder training within your business
  • Implement an Emotional Pulse program to keep on top of the emotional wellbeing of your employees. We partner with an organisation called Sharetree if you want to learn more about the programs they offer reach out.

You can find additional strategies for healthy workplaces via Heads up here.

The wrap up

The consequences of poor mental health within your organisation can be damaging and costly, so strategies to mitigate this impact are essential to your ongoing success. This starts with educating and empowering your leaders to be able to effectively identify an issue and strategise a solution to support both the employee, the team and the organisation collectively.

If you’re reading this thinking, “this sounds like something we need”, then don’t hesitate to check out our leadership training options here or call us on 1300 959 560.

Written by Head Guru – Madeleine Bray

Need HR Help?

Join our newsletter.

Make sure you stay up to date on all the HR goss.

Get a personal consultation.

Call us today at 1300 959 560.

Here in HR Gurus. We make HR simple because it should be.