“The role of a leader in creating a mentally healthy workplace is to promote awareness, and importantly, to promote a culture that allows people to take the steps they need to stay mentally healthy.” — Dr Andrew Wilson, Psychiatrist
Healthy workplaces promote mental health and wellbeing. They are positive and productive, and get the best out of everyone in the workplace. Organisations that care about good mental health and wellbeing attract and keep top talent because they’re great places to work.
The facts are clear: as well as benefiting employees, a mentally healthy workplace is also better for your NFP.
Managers play a critical role in creating a mentally healthy workplace — both through the people they directly supervise, and as a leader influencing others within the organisation. For managers; your staff, in particular, will look to you for leadership, guidance and support. Whether or not your workplace currently sees mental health as a priority, there are many things you can do as a manager to contribute.
Here are 10 tips to foster a mentally healthy workplace for all employees:
1. Increase your own knowledge about mental health and be aware of the support available
This will help you to better understand what someone with a mental health condition may be experiencing and how you can best support them.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of conditions like anxiety and depression will also help you to identify early if anyone in your team may be struggling so you can help them as a manager, and suggest appropriate supports within the business (e.g. wellbeing staff, peer support program) and externally (e.g. Beyond Blue Support Service, GP) that they can access.
Further reading and resources like Beyond Blue’s Mental health awareness online training program, are great ways to start increasing your knowledge of mental health conditions and to learn what you can do to support others.
2. Educate your staff about mental health in the workplace
Educating and training your staff in mental health conditions gives them the information and tools to better understand if they are starting to struggle, and to keep an eye out if any of their colleagues, friends or family are as well. It can also give them the skills and confidence to approach someone that they are worried about.
Education and training helps to decrease stigma around mental health in the workplace, which means staff are more likely to speak up and seek help early, before symptoms get too severe.
You can do this by providing educational information and/or posters in the workplace, delivering a series of short educational talks, such as the tool box talks, listening to personal stories as a team, or undertaking a face to face or online training course.
3. Talk openly about mental health at work and encourage others to do the same
Sharing any personal experiences about mental health can make a real difference in creating a working environment where people are comfortable seeking support if they need it. Talking about mental wellbeing the same way you would physical health is a good place to start.
4. Provide support to any team member who is struggling with their mental health
Supporting someone to stay at work has a number of benefits, for both the employee and the business. It might feel like a lot of responsibility, but you don’t need to be a mental health expert to be understanding and provide support.
Every workplace has a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments so that a person with a mental health conditions can remain at work, provided the person can meet the core requirements of the job. This may include offering flexible working hours, adjusting the person’s workload, and providing additional guidance and support.
5. Communicate regularly with your team
Communicating regularly with your staff and ensuring they can provide feedback helps to keep staff engaged and provides opportunities for any questions.
It is important to make team goals clear to your staff and communicate key achievements, activities, issues and developments. The communication should occur in a timely manner and consideration should be given about the best ways it should be done.
Communicating important issues are best undertaken face-to-face to ensure open discussions can take place and questions and concerns can be raised immediately. For other activities and announcements a staff newsletter or email might suffice.
Remember that a big part of effective communication is listening. Make sure you listen to any feedback your staff might have and take that feedback into consideration.
6. Encourage respectful behaviour and communication by team members
It is critical to set an expectation that all employees respect and listen to each other at all times and that you, as a manager and leader, model this behaviour day-to-day. This may mean you need to educate your team about bullying behaviour, so they understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviours.
Further reading and resources on this topic can be found here: Guide for preventing and responding to workplace bullying.
7. Improve work design by addressing potential workplace stressors
As a manager, there are many things you can do to address potential workplace stress in your team, including;
- Regularly reviewing workloads, timelines and resources
- Improve role clarity by ensuring your staff have well-defined roles and the expectations of them are clear
- Provide adequate resources and training to your staff so they are able to perform their role confidently and competently
The Heads Up Managing Mental Health Risks at Work training is a great way to better understand how to help an employee dealing with a mental health condition to the benefit of the employee and the business.
8. Demonstrate healthy work habits
Lead by example by striking a work-life balance on a day-to-day basis. This may include taking regular breaks, avoiding emailing and work calls outside of work hours and leaving on time. Encourage your staff to do the same.
Managing people can be demanding and challenging, so make sure you take time out to look after yourself. If your organisation has a Manager Assist Program (MAP), use this to assist you during stressful periods.
Some more ideas can be found here, including:
- Limiting your working extra hours;
- Scheduling meetings during core work hours;
- Taking regular breaks;
- Creating boundaries between your work and home life;
- Taking your holiday leave;
- Setting realistic deadlines;
- Realising that it’s OK to say “no”;
- Having a technology switch-off; and
- Making use of flexible working arrangements.
9. Be an influencer
Speak to your colleagues and senior leaders and encourage them to make mental health a priority in the workplace.
10. Work with your team to develop a plan
Develop a plan with your team on how you can all work to create a more mentally healthy workplace. Having your team involved in this stage, helps employees feel ownership in the plans and the goals.
Work together to identify priority areas that need attention and agree on actions that can be implemented to achieve your goals.