Promoting better mental health in the workplace

On October 10th, individuals and organisations across the globe recognised World Mental Health Day – one of many initiatives raising awareness about mental illness and challenging many long-held negative perceptions.

Raising awareness about mental health is only one aspect of bettering attitudes, however. There is increased recognition of the need to protect, promote and support mental health in a more practical manner, not only in our personal lives, but also in the workplace.

Can your organisation afford not to invest?

Mental health is a genuine issue of critical importance in our community; but supporting the mental health of our employees also makes good business sense. Poor mental health takes an enormous toll on employees in their personal lives, and often manifests itself in different ways at work. Employees may be distracted or confused, make more mistakes, or be a negative influence on other employees. For their safety, and the safety of other employees, employers must take a consistent, considered approach to creating a mentally well workplace.

The statistics speak for themselves:

  • On average, employees have nearly three times as many presentee days (when workers are at the workplace, but not mentally engaged with work) as absentee days (when workers are off sick) resulting in much higher hidden costs of poor mental health.

  • The average cost to New Zealand employers for all cases of absentee and presentee days is estimated at over $1,500 per year, per employee.

  • Mental disorders are the third highest cause of health problems for New Zealanders.1

Integrate practical solutions

Research recommends we promote better mental health in the workplace by using an integrated approach2:

  • Reduce work-related risks to mental health, considering job demands; strategies to improve stress responses, and; treatment interventions.

  • Promote the positive aspects of work and organisational culture through; proactively reward employee capabilities; focus on employees’ strengths; model positive leadership practices; ensure that work is meaningful, and; encourage a positive organisational culture.

  • Respond to mental illness, regardless of the cause. Provide training company-wide to improve understanding; ensure employees know they can ask for help, and; improve the overall organisational culture to one of inclusiveness and understanding.

By taking an integrated approach, organisations can avoid focusing on individual cases in a reactive way, and instead look at the entire organisation as a much wider support net for all your employees. This can only have beneficial effects for your employees and your company.

The idea of healthy, happy employees in a supportive work environment may sound like an unreachable goal; but taking positive steps toward that goal will only enhance your workplace. The rewards of doing so are clear. By implementing an integrated approach that considers prevention and promotion of positive mental health, and effective, holistic strategies around responding to mental illness – we can begin to make a difference.

If you are looking for support in developing employee wellbeing programmes and cultures to improve the mental health of your employees and your organisation, please reach out today.

1 “Working Well – A Workplace Guide to Mental Health ” Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand
2 “Workplace mental health: developing an integrated intervention approach ” BMC Psychiatry, 14, 131, LaMontagne, AD., Martin A., Page, KM, Reavley NJ., Noblet, AJ., Keegel, T and Smith, PM (2014)

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