Workplace mental health awareness has received increasing attention over recent times with the introduction of the new model Code of Practice on managing psychosocial hazards at work earlier this year. Psychosocial hazards are anything at work that may cause psychological harm, and the new legislation is seeing organisations more proactively investing in the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. Typically, a broad range of programs and initiatives seek to improve the physical and psychological health of staff through discounted gym memberships, lunchbox or toolbox talks on a range of relevant wellbeing topics, ergonomic and manual handling workshops, confidential and no cost Employee Assistance Programs, and flexible working arrangements.
However, despite an increase in media, Boardroom, Executive, and operational attention a significant gap in the workplace mental health awareness component of organisation’s health, safety and wellbeing programs continues to exist across businesses. Due to competing priorities; a fear of “opening a can of worms”; and very tight and finite budgets (where marketing, business development, sales and salaries take priority); genuine investment in workplace mental health awareness is difficult.
Unfortunately, this is at a time where economic and political uncertainty, instability, and volatility is persisting across markets, industry, and regions. This leads to most workplaces these days doing more with less and asking for a lot more from their staff. This in no small way contributes to employees who are reporting that they are more stressed and distressed than ever. In fact, with 1 in 6 working Australians reporting that they have experienced a mental health concern within the past 12 months, workplace mental health awareness and resilience training has never been more important.
Therefore, the challenge that leaders face is how to promote workplace mental health awareness, including providing resilience training in the workplace, when the P&L is under pressure yet employees are more stressed than ever.
Approaches to workplace mental health awareness that are easy to implement, delivered in a sensible manner (i.e., realistic to implement), and appropriately priced. The tips below provide some practical advice on what your workplace can do in this respect.
5 Tips for Promoting Workplace Mental Health Awareness
1. Cost Effective Training – The Mental Health eLearning Alternative
Workplace mental health awareness eLearning courses for people leaders (and or employees depending on the budget!) provide a scalable, replicable, easy to implement and significantly more cost-effective alternative to face-to-face workplace mental health awareness training. eLearning has both a lower direct cost than face-to-face alternatives and lower indirect costs due to less time out of the business completing training.Further, whilst there is a bottom line cost to the business for providing workplace mental health awareness eLearning courses, this training has the longer-term benefit of providing managers and staff with the knowledge and skills to more effectively deal with mental health issue in the workplace. This has the effect of both reducing your organisation’s legal and reputational risk and reducing the cost associated with return to work plans and worker’s compensation/insurance premium increases due mental health related claims.
2. Package of Online Resources
Easy to access via your organisations SharePoint system, providing an online resource package (for example a Mental Health Awareness eToolkit) is an easy and cost-effective strategy to increase workplace mental health awareness. Such online resources can stand alone or support your workplace mental health awareness and resilience eLearning courses in the workplace.
An effective online resource will contain a set of practical online resources which are available when and where they are needed by HSE, HR, First Aid, and L&D personnel, as well as for broader people managers and staff.
A helpful package will include resources such as: a guide on how to have an effective conversation about mental health, fact sheets on the most common mental health conditions (such anxiety, depression, and substance abuse), information for people leaders and general staff on support services available in the community, and multimedia resources to use around the office or in team meetings such as posters and videos.
3. Workplace Mental Health Awareness Campaign
Workplace mental health awareness is most effective when it is integrated as part of a “business as usual” approach. Whilst “doing” mental health awareness on Are you OK? Day, or a breakfast during Mental Health Week are excellent initiatives and better than no activity at all, workplace mental health that is integrated as part of a coordinated annual schedule (and part a broader health and wellbeing strategy) is best practice.
To that end, a planned workplace Mental Health Awareness Campaign schedule that is not onerous or overwhelming, is incredibly easy and cost effective to implement.
For example, a one-page flexible schedule of events that outlines a maximum of 4-6 activities that you can conduct throughout any given calendar year is considered best practice. Ideally, materials and resources to support these activities (such as a script for managers to help them deliver the plan easily to their teams) should be available. You can also have workplace mental health awareness guest speakers, run a periodic poster or quote campaign, or promote topical articles through live links. These initiatives are excellent for both the time and budget poor!
The purpose of the activities is to build on the knowledge and skill developed in any training provided to staff; and to raise awareness and reduce stigma in the workplace of mental health conditions.
4. Mental Health Crisis Management Officer
Many employers interested in promoting mental health awareness are embracing and appointing individuals in the workplace who can be trained to recognise the signs and symptoms of a mental health challenge or emerging crisis, and have staff on hand to provide first responder treatment and intervention.
Just as a workplace First Aid Officer can respond to someone having a heart attack on the job, so too can a mental health crisis management officer support someone experiencing an anxiety attack until professional medical help can be provided.
Such an appointment by and organisation sends a clear signal of the importance of workplace mental health and this drives awareness and greater vigilance amongst all staff.
5. Health, Safety, and Wellbeing Policy and Practice
One of the best signals to leaders and employees that something is important in the workplace, is when organisational policy and practice is developed around it. Health, safety and wellbeing policy must reflect the importance of workplace mental health awareness.
Practices around workplace mental health awareness may include percentage of staff required to be trained in mental health awareness and or induction and annual compulsory compliance training modules specifically on mental health awareness and resilience training in the workplace.
Further, policy of this nature reflects a genuine and embedded commitment of the organisation towards workplace mental health. For example, where realistic job demands; providing role clarity and autonomy; and creating a healthy physical environment in the workplace place (e.g., office plants, access to natural light, and community areas to promote social interaction) are explicitly articulated parts of health, safety and wellbeing policy, workplace mental health awareness can be argued to be well supported. In fact, such integration and emphasis on these factors demonstrate effective workplace mental health awareness ‘in action’ for an organisation.
And of course, a policy approach to workplace mental health awareness enables performance measurement and reporting to go all the way to the Executive and Board who can be across the key aspects of mental health in their organisation as part of their fiduciary workplace health and safety obligations.
Organisations are required to invest in workplace mental health awareness as part of their health and safety obligations. Unfortunately, in today’s economic climate there is often limited resources to do this at a time when it is needed most exists. This paradox can be overcome through choosing workplace mental health awareness strategies that can be effective and sustainable even on a limited budget and with competing priorities.
If you or someone you know needs help contact your organisation´s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), your GP or call LifeLine on 13 11 14; Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800; MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978; Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Disclaimer: The information provided in this document is not intended to be legal advice and should not be interpreted as such. Managers and businesses should seek appropriate counsel from relevant HR and legal personnel if they do not feel they have the applied knowledge for lawfully managing mental health issues in the workplace. In addition to the information provided, it is important to be fully aware of all relevant legislations and the requirements in your specific state or territory and your organisations applicable policies and procedures.