The importance of employee mental health support

It’s a common misconception that mental illness only affects a few people. One in five Australians suffer from mental health issues. It’s estimated that around 45% of Australians will experience mental health issues at some point in their life.


Mental health issues may not affect many employees’ performance. But it can. And it’s important that, as an employer, you can identify when it may be an issue.


So let’s take a look at the potential benefits of supporting mental health. Then we’ll discuss how you can provide your employees with mental health support.


What are the potential benefits of providing employee mental health support?

There’s less taboo on mental health issues these days. And there’s more awareness. But for some, there remains a stigma around it and it can be hard to kick. Additionally, employees may have other reasons why they feel uncomfortable disclosing any issues.


This means being a proactive employer can help reduce that stigma in the workplace.


Providing your employees with mental health support can:

  • Increase work productivity. Have you ever tried getting things done when you’re stressed? If so, you’ll understand that it’s much easier to get through your to-do list when you’re not as stressed.

  • Increased staff retention. If your staff feel they’ve got no support at work when stressed, they’re more likely to change jobs. This, in turn, increases the time and money you have to spend to find and train new staff.

  • Decreased sick leave.

  • Decreased workers’ compensation claims. Safework Australia reported that:

“mental stress claims are the most expensive form of workers’ compensation claims.”

This is due to the length of time employees are off work on such claims.


Many people don’t realise there’s a connection between physical and mental health. They’re interrelated.


How can you, as an employer, support employee’s mental health?

Understand how mental health impacts your employees

As mentioned above, there are many reasons why an employee may be reluctant to disclose mental health issues. This makes it important for you to recognise the signs of emotional distress. When you’re able to do this, you can react appropriately.


But how can you prepare for this?


Make mental health training mandatory for management, including yourself. Training should be two-fold:

  1. Equipping you and your managers to be more aware and learn how to pick up on signs of emotional distress

  2. Learning what to do if you or your managers see signs of emotional distress or substance abuse


Have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

EAP is a work-based intervention program. It provides your employees a confidential counselling service to support their well-being. If you wanted to, you may extend EAP to your employee’s immediate family members.


This can provide your employees with the support they need in times of difficulty. It’s a great option for employees who’re uncomfortable talking mental health with their boss.


There are many EAP provides in Australia that you can utilise.


In-house policies and practices

Being as kind and flexible as possible to your employees can reduce their stress. And it can promote a good workplace culture. This may mean you need to update your internal policies and practices.


One way to do this would be adjusting your policies around:

• flexible working hours

• paid and unpaid leave, including compassionate leave

• circumstances where employees can work remotely.


You can also review how you conduct your performance reviews. It may be that you need to reframe them, so that such reviews provide:

• compassionate feedback, and

• learning opportunities.


We don’t always know what factors might be causing an employee to have mental health issues. This means there could be a variety of reasons why they’re not performing as you hoped. So, instead of enforcing strict targets or KPIs, show some compassion. Employees are likely to respond to that more positively. And it might open the line of communication more.


This doesn’t mean you should ignore employee targets. It’s a matter of how you discuss that with your employee.


There are some helpful resources online which is a good place to get ideas. For example, the Black Dog Institute’s Workplace Mental Health Toolkit: Practice Guide & Resources.


Summary

We’ve all experienced stress at some point in our lives. And many of us have also experienced mental health issues. How employers deal with mental health in the workplace is a serious consideration. And how you deal with it will affect many aspects of your business.


Need help with your workplace policies and practices so that they’re mental health-friendly? Get in touch with us for help, by email info@dreamstonehr.com.au or ring (02) 8320 9320. We service businesses Australia-wide.

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