Our mental health.
According to the World Health Organization, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
However, normally when someone mentions their mental health, it is in a negative context; for example, when talking about anxiety, depression or something that’s ‘just not good for my mental health’.
It’s not surprising then, that mental health is quite possibly the most misunderstood and underrated asset human beings have. But mental health is fundamental to every relationship we have, including those with the most influence over our happiness and wellbeing: relationships with family, friends, and the people we work with, and for.
Work – the self-identity it affords us, and the purpose we express by carrying it out – can have a love-hate relationship with our mental health.
Achieving goals, working alongside colleagues, can all be positive for our mental health and wellbeing.
Conversely, feeling isolated from colleagues, being bullied, or being subjected to unreasonable demands, is negative for our mental health and wellbeing.
Furthermore, for people with complex mental health issues, the effects are amplified, with participation in workplaces so important but the misunderstanding and/or stigmatisation of mental illness too commonplace.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had predictable and unforeseen effects on the mental health of Australians. Despite the terrible harm, it has had one positive impact – Australian governments, businesses and communities have never been so aware of the value of mental health.
There is no doubt, workplaces (virtual and physical) are a key domain for addressing mental health at scale in Australia.
The business case for investing in mentally healthy workplaces.
According to research by the Black Dog Institute, mental illness is very common. One in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year.
Beyond the obvious moral obligation to provide a mentally healthy workplace, and enjoy the social and cultural rewards it creates, there are hard numbers to support business investment.
- Mental health concerns are the most common reason for lower productivity, affecting 3 in 5 workers (Superfriend, Indicators of a Thriving Workplace report, 2020)
- There is a 500% return on productivity for supporting mental health at work (Cowan G, Best Practice in Managing Mental Health, cited by the Human Rights Commission).
- The estimated cost to business every year from negative mental health impacts is $13 billion (Mental Health Australia and KPMG, 2018).
Investing in mental health delivers financial returns to the company and its shareholders. It, therefore, needs to be a key metric upon which executive teams are measured, and in the company’s reporting: not just the measurement of negative impacts, such as absenteeism, but through more sophisticated measurement of the links between good mental health and, for example, productivity.
The Blueprint for Mentally Healthy Workplaces.
The Blueprint for Mentally Healthy Workplaces has been produced as part of the National Workplace Initiative. This is an $11.5 million investment by the Commonwealth Government in creating a nationally consistent approach to mentally healthy workplaces.
The Blueprint defines a vision for mentally healthy workplaces that can be shared by all organisations. And, as every workplace has unique needs, it is intended to create a foundation that can be tailored by workers and managers in specific workplace or industry contexts.
Key features of the Blueprint.
Creating mentally healthy workplaces requires persistent action across three key pillars in any organisation. These pillars intersect, with action in one area often leading to improvements in others.
- Protect – Identify and manage work-related risks to mental health.
- Respond – Build capability to identify and respond to support people experiencing mental ill-health or distress.
- Promote – Recognise and enhance the positive aspects of work that contribute to good mental health.
The Blueprint encourages people at different levels in organisations to ask some key questions:
- How do I manage stress from work?
- How do we support people going through a rough patch?
- Do we have the right policies and programs?
- How are we performing relative to others? And, are we compliant?
- How do we address mental health in our industry?
There are eight core principles for change that set organisation and team initiatives up for success. Thinking about “how” change can happen can be just as important as thinking about “what” change to make.
- Consult and listen
- Engage decision-makers early
- Link action to outcomes
- Assign accountability
- Integrate into business as usual
- Make change visible and transparent
- Base decisions on research-supported approaches
- Continually review and improve
Application in workplaces.
Workforces face a layered set of circumstances that challenge mental health, particularly in the pandemic era: assisting customers and families through the process of dislocation or loss, the risk of personal COVID exposure, the requirement of vaccination, interruptions to service delivery, and communicating with employees under extreme stress.
And yet, workers in many industries have continued to undertake their roles in work that is vital to the health of Australian communities. The sense of purpose and potential for immediate social impact has never been more present.
Without the knowledge of how our minds work, society has viewed mental health from a pathogenic perspective for far too long – that is, as a problem to fix.
Now, we know a lot more. We know mental health is our greatest asset. When we are mentally ‘fit’, we are capable, empathetic, resilient and productive – the characteristics so important to aged care, no matter which role a person has.
Here are some positive steps providers can take to build mentally healthy workplaces:
- Download the blueprint and, within teams, reflect on its application in each role, team and workplace setting or context.
- As an industry, use the blueprint as a reference to identify and address the immediate needs and future potential of mentally healthy workplaces.
- As individuals, ask ourselves what changes we can make to understand, articulate and build our mental health – with colleagues, friends and family members.
Help improve the Blueprint for Mentally Healthy Workplaces. Your input is important. Download the Blueprint and provide feedback.
You have until Friday 26 November 2021!