October is the Way Ahead organisation’s Mental Health Month in NSW. For business owners and managers, it’s a timely reminder of the need to check in with your team and to start those conversations to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.
It may not be easy to initiate these conversations, but as business owners and operators, we have an important role to play. Mental illness is one of the leading causes of sickness, absence, and long-term work incapacity in Australia. At any point in time, one in six working age people will be living with mental illness, costing businesses $12bn every year*.
While the cost to the economy and business is great, the human cost is even greater. Mental health not only impacts the individual, but also those caring for and supporting people with mental health difficulties, while juggling their own work and home responsibilities.
As an SME owner you’re likely to be quite tuned in with your employees, and aware of their personal experiences. However, when budget for employee wellness is constrained, SMEs can look to other mechanisms to support staff and enable these conversations to take place.
The first step is to let your staff know that it’s okay not to be okay, and to provide support mechanisms for anyone struggling. Partnering with local community groups or professional organisations such as the Black Dog Institute, who offer programs designed to create safer, mentally healthier workplaces is a great start. Also have Lifeline and beyondblue’s details to hand.
Acknowledge the need for “mental-health days”, allowing staff to use their sick leave or additional days off work to address personal mental health challenges. People are most productive when they feel supported. By making small shifts in language, behaviours and environment, businesses can break down the taboos surrounding mental health, and view mental-health days as an opportunity for employees to regenerate.
You can also build the right supportive environment for your employees. Foster a culture of comfort and empowerment; provide different office spaces for varied work styles; support remote workers; and provide tools and technology to help employees balance competing workplace demands. For example, we use wireless headsets, earbuds, and mobile conference speakers to support our workers’ ability to collaborate, concentrate, manage stress, and be more productive.
Do more to help your employees achieve greater work-life balance. Incorporate health programs into the company’s daily activities or sponsoring team entries for charity runs to build camaraderie and support external organisations. As a team, Jabra recently took part in a charity ride from Perth to Broome, fundraising for the Black Dog Institute.
With a greater focus on, and understanding of, mental health issues, this activity opened up numerous conversations in our office and wider business community on the topic of mental health, simply because we made it part of the conversation.
Mental Health Month is also a reminder to reflect on your own mental health. As business owners and operators, we’re often guilty of delivering messages of health and wellness to our employees but never take the time ourselves to disconnect from our work lives to rest and recharge. Your business may be your lifeblood, but being “always on” can be detrimental. It’s a tell-tale symptom of modern society that we need to work hard and addressing this requires change to be driven from the top down.
Breaking down the barriers to mental health in the workplace takes time, and effort. It’s essential to incorporate it within your day-to-day operations and not only when events like Mental Health Month roll around. Kick-starting these conversations will have long term benefits for your employees and the overall business, including improved staff loyalty and retention, greater productivity, and overall staff satisfaction.
David Piggott, ANZ Managing Director, Jabra