October is Mental Health Awareness month in Australia, and with World Mental Health day on the 10th of October, there’s no better time to consider practical ways you can support your employees and their mental health.

Poor mental health can cost businesses through absenteeism, presenteeism (people who attend work but aren’t able to perform their role well), lost productivity and the impact on team culture. While the indirect costs of mental health issues are difficult to measure, it’s clear this is an important topic for businesses to address.

One in five Australian employees reportedly have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. For those in the group studied who also consider their workplace to be mentally unhealthy, over 40% have taken time off due to mental health in that same period. So, while mental health is complex and not always work-related, with the impact it has on the individuals affected and the workplace as a whole, it’s worth taking steps to promote positive mental health and wellbeing at work.

Spotting the Signs

We understand it can be hard to keep track of all your employees whilst also managing the day to day requirements of your business, however given how much time people spend at work, it’s important that people are looking out for each other at work.

Make time to frequently check in with your employees and be aware of the common early warning signs that may indicate someone is struggling with mental health.

Warning signs can include:

  • Lack of concentration
  • Emotional behaviour and/or mood swings
  • Feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with simple tasks
  • Less communication between colleagues
  • Arriving late to work
  • Frequently calling in sick

Workplace factors affecting mental health

While there are many factors outside of work that can affect a person’s mental health, there are also workplace factors that can contribute to poor mental health, including:

  • High demands of the role
  • Not enough demand or purpose for the role
  • Lack of support or clarity around role requirements
  • poor workplace relationships
  • poorly managed workplace changes
  • a whole range of environmental conditions
  • remote or isolated work
  • violent or traumatic events

Making an effort to address some of these factors that may be present in your workplace will help to reduce the impact of workplace stress on your employees. Effective management of these issues will help to reduce unplanned absences including sick leave and reduce staff turnover while improving engagement and productivity among your employees.

What can you do to help?

Understanding stressors

Understanding why people are feeling stressed gives you the opportunity to work with them to make positive changes. Is it the amount of work? Lack of support or recognition? Do they need training to feel more competent? Finding the root cause of stress will benefit the business and help your employee keep the stress levels to a minimum.

Taking breaks

Encourage employees to take a break and go for a walk, stretch their legs, get some sunshine and a refreshment. Stepping away from work not only relieves tired eyes, but can be an opportunity to connect with others and come back to their work refreshed and with a clear mind.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Some employees may benefit from a late start, as stress can often disrupt sleep patterns and sufferers find it difficult to relax before sleep. A regular day off, changing hours for a less stressful commute or the opportunity to work from home one day each week, are other ways the business could support employees. Discuss what will work for the business and the employee and agree to a timeframe to trial these changes.

Employee Assistance Programs

Many workplaces are now offering EAP services that provide employer funded, confidential support for employees who may be struggling with mental health. If your workplace does not offer these, there are services employees can access through their GP, and free resources available through sites such as BeyondBlue.

If you’d like to find out how Cornerstone can help you improve mental health in your workplace, get in touch with us today.