At WayAhead, we are lucky to work with some very keen minds, working on some very important issues. Before the WayAhead Workplaces Annual Members Forum, we had a chance to sit down with Sharon Leadbetter, the WayAhead Workplaces Coordinator, to have a chat about the program and the latest research and trends in mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
Employers and managers should view being a mentally healthy workplace as core to their business success says WayAhead Workplaces Manager, Sharon Leadbetter.
“We know from current evidence that workplaces with mental health and wellness programs are much better able to support, retain and get better results from their staff, regardless if they have a mental health condition during their employment, compared with those without,” said Ms Leadbetter.
Ms Leadbetter believes employers looking to implement a mental health promotion program in their workplace should note the following five things in developing such a program:
1 – Become mental health literate and recognise potential issues
It is crucial that organisations provide mental health education to all employees and train and support its managers to have ongoing conversations with their staff about their wellbeing. By doing this mangers learn to recognise mental distress in their employees and use referral pathways. The organisation does not need to diagnose their employee’s mental health condition, but should promote ways of finding help and support them to do this. Knowledge is power and when people understand mental distress, they can then make informed decisions about how best to support people experiencing it.
2 – Design mental health and wellness policies and procedures with your staff, not for them.
Having mental health and wellness policies and procedures for any workplace is incredibly important. They often fail if they are not actively supported by leaders and managers, where policies have not been co-designed with employees, and follow evidence based practice. Employers need to understand their legal obligations and Duty of Care to their employees. Viewing staff members as essential stakeholders during the development of mental health policies will help facilitate their support for and ownership of programs, and assist with the implementation and ongoing sustainability of these policies. For employees with a mental illness they need to know their work environment is set up to support them and free from any mental health stigma to encourage their participation at work.
3 – Know what mental health services you can refer employees to.
There are many free mental health referral guides, including the WayAhead Directory, where people can easily search for mental health services in their area. Organisations should encourage their employees experiencing mental distress to talk to their GPs or a trusted medical professional or use their organisations Employee Assistance Program, if available.
4 – Design jobs to get the best out of people
The role of employers is to provide a safe and supportive work environment where employees understand what their roles and responsibilities are, and can use their skills and strengths. Job design includes having a variety of tasks, tasks are organised and clear and well resourced. Employees have control over how they do their work to achieve the best business outcome.
5 – Invest in manager training.
Managers need to be given support and training to effectively manage a situation where one of their team members is experiencing mental health distress. Manager training should include how to have difficult conversations, conflict resolution, building resilience, emotional intelligence and self-awareness and how to work effectively with their employee to support them while managing their mental health and returning to work, including flexible work practices.
Ms Leadbetter’s comments coincide with the WayAhead Workplaces Annual Member Forum in Sydney on June 20, where some of Australia’s largest employers, like Optus and the Commonwealth Bank, will share with others what they are doing in regards to mental health promotion programs and the positive affect they have had on the workforce and, in turn, business productivity.
For other recent WayAhead news and public statements visit the website.
The 2016 Annual Member’s Forum for WayAhead Workplaces drew together more than 100 people to hear presentations on diverse topics such as the impact of workplace design on mental health, planning for an aging workforce and measuring the economic benefits of workplace health programs. It also provided an opportunity to participate in “research speed dating” that allowed university research teams to pitch their workplace health ideas to the network membership in the hope of finding mutually beneficial projects to work on. Our 10th birthday provided us with an opportunity reflect on just how far we’ve come since our first meeting in 2006, with just 19 attendees and a vision to improve the mental health of Australia’s working population.