Workplace mental health – it’s more than just fruit bowls and yoga

A quick look around a workplace and it is easy to identify staff who have physical ailments. They might be coughing, or have a bandaged hand, a leg in plaster, or look pale and unwell. But trying to spot those experiencing poor mental health is not as easy, despite the fact one in every five Australian workers has a mental health condition right now.

They usually don’t show physical signs of distress and, in many cases, don’t speak about how they are feeling because they fear the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

These are realities that beyondblue is working hard to change. And it is pleasing to know many workplaces are ready to make a difference. While many leaders don’t feel confident about the steps they can take to make workplaces more mentally healthy, they should draw confidence from successes of the past.

The phenomenal reduction of physical injuries in workplaces through occupational health and safety reform has reduced work-related fatalities by 30 per cent since 2003. Businesses realised they could play a crucial role in saving lives and now have ingrained strategies and processes in place to ensure the physical safety of their workforce. They also understand that mental health is an important workplace issue, but they’re not quite sure what to do about it.

This is where beyondblue’s Heads Up resources come to the fore. There was a time when workplace mental health programs consisted of fruit bowls and yoga classes. While these initiatives do serve a purpose, Heads Up promotes a multi-faceted approach to achieve long-lasting positive effects.

The good news is, the process doesn’t have to be complicated. The crucial first step must be taken by leaders. They positively influence workplace culture and behavioural change and can play a critical role in driving mental health policies and practices. By educating themselves about workplace mental health, identifying influential staff champions to take up the cause, and allowing everyone to identify risks and providing solutions, leaders lay the groundwork for people to thrive. Allowing staff to have their say will help identify common barriers to creating a mentally healthy organisation, such as the amount of time employees spend at work, the intensity of their position, clarity about their roles and responsibilities, and conveying constructive feedback.

Why is this important?

Because research shows employees who are overworked, unsure about what their role entails, have little to no breaks during working hours and are not given insights about their performance will have difficulties producing their best work.

Step inside a mentally healthy workplace and you will find staff are more engaged, motivated and likely to go above and beyond in their roles. These organisations enjoy an average return on investment of $2.30 for every dollar spent on creating a mentally healthy environment. Their staff are not afraid to speak up when they are struggling because they know it will have no bearing on how people see their capability to do their job or jeopardise their chances of promotion. They are places that not only support employees who may be experiencing a mental health condition, but also create an environment where as many staff as possible are thriving, productive, enjoy being at work, and are fully engaged.

These protective factors are based on years of evidence collated through Heads Up, an initiative of beyondblue and supported by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance. The Heads Up website provides comprehensive information on how to create a mentally healthy workplace and tailored advice for leaders, managers and employees. And it is all free.

Heads Up explains the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression, how to have a conversation with a colleague you are worried about, and tips on how to support the person. We know it works, because leaders who have engaged with Heads Up have told beyondblue they are more likely to take action towards creating mentally healthy workplaces than those who haven’t. Now, more than ever, Australian workers are demanding workplaces be inclusive, engaging, non-discrimatory and mentally healthy. Organisations that meet these demands are best placed to attract and retain the best and brightest staff.

A mentally healthy workplace gives employers a competitive advantage. beyondblue’s Heads Up resource is available anywhere, any time to help businesses support their staff.

To begin your workplace mental health journey, go to

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