Infiltrating workplaces: the national mental health challenge

It’s no secret that the past 18 months have caused huge amounts of stress and anxiety for most of us. While mental health rates increased across all generations, it’s been millennials and Gen Z who have been hit the hardest.

While gritting teeth, riding the storm, and keeping positive mindsets on the future has been the approach, the pain is still being felt, especially in Australia. Deloitte’s 2020 global survey indicated that due to the pandemic, 41 per cent of millennials and 46 per cent of Gen Zs have felt stressed all or most of the time. The biggest contributors including finances, welfare of family, and job prospects.

How is this relevant to workplaces and business? Well, very.

First, is the reality that mental health cannot be separated from the office.

Whether or not employees return to a physical office, or remain remote, mental health issues can’t be left at the door. We’ve already seen the lines become blurred between personal and professional lives due to working from home; but a return to the physical office doesn’t mean it gets better. In fact, for many employees, this just proves an additional challenge.  

Second, are the rises in absenteeism which cost business.

The survey revealed that about 31 per cent of millennials and 35 per cent of Gen Zs have taken time off over the last 18 months due to stress and anxiety. Every business knows that each day an employee isn’t in the office, it costs. There are costs associated with declines in performance and productivity and increases in workload for others; costs associated with financial benefits paid to the employee; even costs to general morale and culture.  

Third, is the risk of retention when culture isn’t transparent.

How open is your workplace when it comes to talking about mental health issues? The same survey found that those who had taken time off gave a different reason for their absence. The reason being due to stigma that exists around mental health.  

A workplace where employees don’t feel supported leads to a culture of distrust, disengagement and contempt. And for younger gens who value inclusive, transparent cultures, this doesn’t bide well in terms of retention or recruitment.

So, what do businesses and workplaces need to do?

Four simple strategies include:  

Shifting attitude. There was a time when mental health wasn’t spoken about and older generations “simply got on with it”. This isn’t how it is today; nor should it be. We are in an era where mental health is spoken about and there are systems and services to help. The old ways of being, simply don’t stand up anymore.

Prioritising mental health. Workplaces have a responsibility to create a work environment that supports employees’ mental health and allows them to thrive. Build it into your strategy or policies to make sure it is on the agenda.

Encouraging an inclusive culture. Fostering open and inclusive workplaces where people feel comfortable and supported speaking up about mental health challenges is critical. Start small (such as putting it onto a workplace meeting agenda) if needed.

Setting up support systems. Whether these are in-house or through external service providers, having support systems available is critical. This includes making sure employees know who is available to contact, and when.

It’s inevitable that stress and anxiety will spill into the workplace. The key however in managing the current dynamic, is setting up strategies to support employees, so they can, in turn, support your workplace.