Mentally healthy workplaces are as important to employees as physically safe ones. But how do you get there? A lot of employers have the desire to do more for their employees’ well-being but get overwhelmed by the number of resources and information that’s available.
We spend a lot of time at work. Approximately one-third of our adult life is spent earning a living. So it’s no wonder work has a significant impact on our well-being. But workplaces don’t have to be lifeless vacuums that drain us of our mental health. In fact, workplaces can, and should, be designed so that they have a positive influence on the wellbeing of their employees.
So how do we move away from workplaces that hinder mental health, and toward those that help it? Gone are the days where you would simply identify risk factors. Businesses around the world are moving toward a best-practice approach for developing and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace. It involves identifying the characteristics of a mentally healthy workplace so you can begin to implement them into your own. These strategies were developed by the University of Melbourne (Australia) from expert consensus and best-practice literature. So stop being reactive and start being proactive. Create a mental health and wellbeing strategy that covers the following ten principles:
1. Develop a positive work environment
Culture is king. And while it’s impossible to change a workplace culture overnight, there are some simple things to implement that will steer it in the right direction. And it all starts with management setting a clear and positive example. Create a supportive environment that encourages teamwork, collaboration, and new ideas. Communicate effectively and be transparent, accountable and approachable. And importantly, ask your staff how they’re feeling and emphasize your organization’s commitment to supporting mental health.
2. Develop a mental health and well-being policy
If your organization wants to take mental health seriously, then you need a comprehensive mental health and well-being policy just like you would for health and safety. This will help you clearly outline what your organizational goals are, and what is expected of both management and staff. The policy should link to other key policies, such as those on human resources, health and safety, equal opportunity, bullying and harassment, violence and conflict resolution.
3. Balance job demands with job control
It’s important that staff feel adequately resourced and that their workloads are manageable. Work-related stress can occur when staff can’t get on top of their work. Additional training, role clarification, or simply some extra help can all improve the way someone views their workload. Employees can also become at-risk when they perceive a lack of control in their role. Wherever possible, allow employees to self-manage their own workload and provide some flexibility in work patterns and schedules.
4. Reward employees’ efforts
Everyone likes to feel valued, and managers play an important role in ensuring workplace effort equals reward. Employees can become dejected if they feel they are being inadequately recognized for their work. And reward doesn’t necessarily refer to salary – it could be a promotion, job security, or positive and timely feedback. Even if it’s not all positive, it’s important to provide feedback on performance.
5. Create a fair workplace
It’s impossible to create a positive environment if your staff thinks it is being unfairly treated. And fairness in the workplace can take many different forms. It could be treating staff fairly based on their cultural background, or it could refer to being open and transparent when your staff is internally promoted. Whatever the rules are, make sure they are clear and that they apply to everyone, always.
6. Provide workplace support
Senior management needs to provide readily available information on the support networks available to staff. These could be internal support systems such as peer/mentor programs, or external third-party programs designed to help with problems outside of work. Employees should be clear on where they can turn if they are having health concerns, financial issues, or simply want someone to talk to.
7. Effectively manage organizational change
When organizational change is poorly handled, workers can become at-risk of developing mental health problems. Make sure to assess the risks to mental health and monitor these on an ongoing basis. Wherever possible, discuss potential changes to roles and responsibilities with staff first, so that you can get their input. If the organizational change is significant, make sure you communicate effectively with staff to reduce uncertainty and distress.
8. Develop leadership and management skills
As mental health problems become more common in the workplace, it’s important that managers and supervisors receive regular training to develop their skills. Make sure you are on top of best-practice approaches toward workplace bullying, managing conflict, having difficult conversations, emotional intelligence, and stress management. Because these are all areas that develop constantly, and your management style will have a direct effect on your organizational culture.
9. Provide mental health education
You should provide all employees with base-level mental health education at a minimum. The more your employees learn about mental health, the better they will become at managing it, and identifying when it’s becoming a problem. What is mental health and what are the warning signs? How can the workplace impact my mental health? How can I keep my mind healthy? Where can I turn for more information? These are the sort of questions your employees should have no trouble answering.
10. Manage mental health-related under-performance
Finally, managers should be wary of situations where an employee’s underperformance may be linked to a mental health problem. If this is the case, the manager should attempt to provide assistance before disciplinary action. If a mental health problem is identified, consider making adjustments to the employee’s role or workload to assist them in getting back to full health.