Why and how should mental illness be made a priority at work?

Why and how should mental illness be made a priority at work?

Understanding of mental illness – and the part that employers can play in helping employees – has improved considerably in recent years. With about a million Australians living with mental illness, it should be a priority in the workplace, not only because of the major costs to society as a whole but also because of how it affects your business.  

Discover specifically how a mental health workplace policy can boost the culture and profits of your company and how you can go about beginning a mental health program in your workplace. 

Why is it important to care for your employees' mental health?

1) It makes them healthier in the long term

First of all, a company should consider investing in improving the mental health of employees solely because of all of the secondary ailments that can arise from mental illness.

Workplace health initiatives are part of a preventative approach to disease and disorders, or they can at least slow their advancement. The Centre for Disease Control explains safety and health professionals are becoming more alert to the growing body of evidence about how the workplace can in part or wholly cause health problems once thought to be unrelated to work.

Mentally healthy are less likely to have health problems in the long run. x 0 0 0 14103832 800Mentally healthy people are less likely to have health problems in the long run.

For example, the World Health Organisation explains that mental disorders are usually one of the three leading causes of disability, as well as cardiovascular disease and musculo-skeletal disorders.

Therefore, tackling mental health problems goes beyond just mental health. It is an effort specifically targeted at improving your employees' overall health. As for business interests, this provides you with greater employee retention and less absenteeism in the long run.

2) It makes your workers more productive

Productivity is one of the other main arguments for your safety professionals to have the training to make mental health a priority in the workplace.

The World Health Organisation states that mental health is now known to affect functional and working capacity in a number of ways. What's more, if the mental illness started at a younger age, the individual's capacity to work will be all the more reduced.

Mental illness costs the Australian economy over $20 billion a year.

The decreased capacity to work explains why mental illness is such a drain on a company's resources; mental illness costs the Australian economy over $20 billion a year, Safe Work Australia reported. For this reason, mental illness is the hidden cost that businesses incur every day on a large scale.

Because mental illness impacts productivity, the return on investment of creating mentally healthy workplaces has been studied more in recent years by big names such as PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). With significant statistics such as those found in PwC's 2014 report that every dollar spent on effective workplace mental health initiatives may generate $2.30 in benefits to an organisation, more business leaders are seeing greater justification for investing in mental health action plans in the office.

3) It affects their ability to communicate

Then come the everyday operational challenges of dealing with employees who have mental illnesses, such as difficulty with communication.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explained that an anxiety disorder can majorly impact your employees' advancement. For example, a number of people may turn down a promotion because it involves public speaking or travel. This also means a major waste of talent that goes unused because of the employee's fear of one aspect of the higher-level position.

Anxiety and depression can make it difficult for employees to effectively communicate. x 0 0 0 7077115 800Anxiety and depression can make it difficult for employees to effectively communicate.

Not to mention, anxiety and depression can affect the culture of your workplace. These mental illnesses can make people feel less able to maintain personal relationships and manage staff. Employees with mental illness feel more alienated from others, which is never good news for a business.

With half of Australians struggling with mental illness at some point in their lives, improving the mental health of your employees will almost certainly lead to better communication in the workplace.

How can you bring about a mental health-friendly workplace?

1) Fostering inclusively

As part of providing social contact, which is essential for promoting mental health, making people feel included is paramount.

A positive culture is the way to give social contact and make people feel part of a collective effort, Safe Work Australia reported. This includes social events and efforts to give everyone a voice in meetings.

Having the opportunity to help out with planning activities and projects is also important because it helps employees form social identities. Making sure that everyone can have a sense of autonomy and responsibility is necessary, according to Beyond Blue, a national depression initiative.

2) Listening

Giving people an outlet to talk about problems relating to mental health is also helpful.

Listening is important, considering how much work-related stress is due to lack of clear instructions and unrealistic deadlines. If an employee is confused or uneasy about a deadline, they should be listened to and made to feel they have a certain degree of control over their work.

If an employee brings a particular concern to a manager's attention, it's important to listen. x 0 0 0 14091731 800If an employee brings a particular concern to a manager's attention, it's important to listen.

Lastly, harassment and discrimination – sexual or otherwise – make listening paramount, the World Health Organisation says. All employees should feel that they're safe at work and that people will openly listen to them if they bring up concerns of bullying or harassment.

However, Safe Work Australia found that less than half of managers (43 per cent) have an understanding of mental illness. Listening and attempting to understand can make a great difference though.

3) Education

A lack of understanding of mental illness makes education necessary, for both managers and employees.

Education informs your employees about how they can better identify when they're having problems and negative factors in their life that may be causing or worsening the illness.

As for managers and business leaders' training, make sure they are up to date on the latest mental health findings, the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health advises. Then train those in higher-level positions on how to respond if they think someone may be suffering from a disorder.

Want a workplace health and safety career?

If mental health is important to you, you should consider a career in workplace health and safety. Line Management Institute of Training, renowned for its Vocational Education and Training, has several training courses in workplace health and safety. Find out which course you're most suited for by contacting us today at 1800 819 651.

Published by: LMIT