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Supporting mental health in the workplace has been a hot topic and important issue in 2017, with everyone from British royalty to former Australian Prime Ministers weighing in on how they seek to protect their mental health while performing high-profile duties. But what about the average worker who may be suffering from anxiety or depression?
In recent months, an employee of live chat service Olark, Madlyn Parker, emailed her colleagues advising that she needed to take some time off to focus on her mental health. The web developer at the tech company was so amazed to receive a supportive email from CEO Ben Congleton thanking her for ‘cutting through the stigma’ of mental health issues, she shared the response on Twitter. The tweet ended up going viral, sparking news stories and lots of online dialogue about the need for more open-minded leaders when it comes to employee mental health.
Despite today’s progress toward more employee-centric policies and greater acceptance around supporting mental health in the workplace, the viral nature of this story shows that it remains a taboo subject in the workplace. When employees feel they have no choice but to make up an excuse for leave or continue coming to work when they aren’t functioning at 100 percent, workplaces are impacted negatively. It’s a lose-lose-lose for the employee, their team and, ultimately, the whole organisation.
Recognising the signs of depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse in the workplace could yield fewer sick days.
A recent study by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of New South Wales revealed that a basic four-hour training session on mental health to managers about recognising the signs of depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse in the workplace could yield fewer sick days. The study also revealed that this could lead to a 10-to-1 return on investment. “Across the developed world, mental health has taken over as the leading cause of long-term work absence,” says Associate Professor Samuel Harvey, senior study author.
What else can be done to alleviate this risk? Here are some tips:
If you’re apprised of when staff are away, you can ensure resources are allocated in the right places. Ideally, employees in the same team or in smaller organisations shouldn’t take leave at the same time. Not only is this essential for ensuring your business can perform at maximum capacity, but it will also help reduce the impact of sick days or other unexpected leave when they do come up.
We are all human and there will always be some days when we just don’t wake up feeling our best. But what about ongoing issues that your staff are struggling with? These will come up from time to time and can only be managed properly if your staff feel like they can be open. It doesn’t need to be a fully-fledged counselling session, but if your staff feel comfortable approaching you, you’ll have a much better chance of being able to help them overcome it by adjusting their work load or organising for them to take some time for themselves. “Having a supportive manager can make a huge difference to a person’s mental wellbeing,” says Associate Professor Harvey.
No-one is immune to mental health issues, and those affected will know that it’s largely out of their control, but spending five days a week in a negative environment certainly doesn’t help. As much as possible, strive to make your workplace a haven for your employee. Yes, it is a place for productivity and hard work, but no one can be effective when they’re not in a good mindset. Workplace bullying, unrealistic expectations, extreme micro-management and lack of learning opportunities are all ingredients that contribute to low morale and lost productivity. Don’t let your organisation fall into these traps.
Here are some ways to create a positive environment:
Many organisations encourage employees to set goals, but not enough of them take real steps to track these goals and make sure they are achieved. By ensuring your people work toward goals that contribute to your mission, you in turn can help them to become more engaged and fulfilled. A good HR platform, will help leaders and staff set and track goals, making them visible and accountable.
Funky offices, free barista coffee and bring-your-pet-to-work-day are all great ways to make employees love their workplace – but these surface perks are of no value to good people if they can’t do meaningful work. Passionate staff want to implement new ideas, push themselves and constantly upskill. Encourage this behaviour by offering learning and development possibilities. This doesn’t always have to mean expensive courses or conferences, but can simply be opportunities in the workplace where they are able to unleash their passion or hone a new skill.
Too often, performance reviews are only performed once or twice a year. Most of the time this process cannot provide an accurate snapshot of an individual’s performance. The solution? Aim to split up this formal process into more manageable chunks. Give feedback immediately when it is warranted, record important diary notes in a central location and ensure that most of employee’s evaluation is coming from a manager who works closely with them.