Work Health and Safety Laws cover risks to psychological (mental) health as well as those related to physical health.  According to a research by Asana, some 77% of workers in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) experienced burnout in 2020.  It’s actually quite surprising how often people think ‘mental wellbeing’ is all about the ‘fluffy stuff’ like yoga and candles. Internationally, the World Health Organisation estimates that depression and anxiety issues cost the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity.  You may not be able to put a price on happiness but you certainly can on misery.

This is a stressful time for all Australians, and by law employers must do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate and reduce the psychological risks to workers and others in the workplace.  In simple terms, this means working out what causes workers stress at work and finding ways to eliminate or prevent it.  In practice, what does this look like? Nike have recently been in the news for closing their corporate offices for a week so employees can have time off to focus on mental health.  This is clearly not ‘practicable’ for many businesses, and you could argue such an approach will only have short-term impact anyway.  There clearly isn’t a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter approach to this, much will depend on the size and type of business, however, there are a few general points of advice which are universal:

1. Awareness

Being aware and understanding mental health is a key step toward protecting the wellbeing of oneself and others. A great way to encourage a culture of openness and honesty amongst employees is for management to lead by example. Being transparent and accepting about their mental health can inspire employees to feel comfortable initiating healthy conversations about their own situation, and the steps they take to look after their mental wellness.  Other ways to raise awareness include: participating in mental health awareness days, conducting mental health awareness training and including the topic in the induction process.  Checking-in on employees on a regular basis can also help to maintain a positive workplace, especially now more people are working from home and not seeing each other face-to-face.  Are you doing OK?  It’s not a difficult thing to say, but apparently over 40% of employees claim they are never asked.

2. Provide support

If you are a company of a certain size then you may be in the fortunate position to be able to offer access to wellbeing programmes.  Just make sure that your HR policies and programmes include a focus on mental health and not just the physical side of things – activities/courses that promote ‘resilience’ and ‘mindfulness’ are a great place to start.  If you are smaller, with smaller budgets, you can still offer assistance – there are so many apps and courses out there that can provide support, but even something as simple as mandating no emails after x 0’clock, or encouraging all staff to take an exercise break a couple of times a week can make a difference.  Most importantly, though, you need to ensure that if one of your employees is really struggling, they know where they can go to discuss their problems openly without fear.

3. Recovery

Once an issue has been identified, support needs to be provided to the individual recovering from the mental health issue or stressful life event.  Training may need to be provided to their supervisor/colleagues to help create a supportive environment and ensure no discrimination or bullying occurs.  Reasonable allowances may need to be made regarding their duties and working hours as well as flexibility in relation to sick leave.

There are many resources out there to help individuals and companies navigate this issue, but we think the Black Dog Institute which is a not-for-profit medical research institute in Australia which aims to create a mentally healthier world for everyone, is a great place to start.  Worksafe Australia also has some great resources and links to specific support for SME businesses too.

Investing in the mental wellness of your employees is not just a ‘nice thing to do’, it also makes business sense as a happy workforce is a productive workforce and, as we said at the top of this article, it is a legal requirement too.

If you have any questions or concerns about this issue, please get in touch: