4 ways Aussie businesses can improve employee mental health

The modern economy operates at a breakneck pace, which places everyday employees under increasing pressure to perform. Over time, those pressures can have a massive and debilitating effect on a company’s workforce, increasing turnover, decreasing engagement, and fuelling absenteeism. The situation in Australia is especially dire, with a mere 52% of employees rating their workplaces as mentally healthy.

For Australian businesses, that’s a figure that should be cause for alarm. It’s clear that something must be done – and soon – to stem what experts are calling a workplace mental health crisis. But what can business leaders do, short of posting an SWMS statement like high-risk construction sites have – warning employees of what’s in store for them?

The key is to adopt a series of measures meant to improve the mental wellbeing of employees. Such an effort shouldn’t be difficult, and the benefits are clear. Here are four simple things that businesses can do.

Make holiday time mandatory

Australia’s long been known as a holiday-friendly nation. Workers here enjoy a mandatory minimum provisioning of 4 weeks of paid time off each year. The problem is that an increasing number of Aussies are neglecting to use those days off. Every expert who’s looked at the issue points to this trend as one of the reasons workplace stress is on the rise. The simple reality is that people need breaks from work to decompress and relax – so the easiest solution is for businesses to make taking available vacation days mandatory. Some companies are going even further with such concepts and offering even more generous vacation time policies, and that’s something more businesses should emulate.

De-stigmatize mental health

As with most matters, when it comes to workplace culture, the tone is set at the top. Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health issues in the workplace, that tone is overwhelmingly negative. A recent survey indicated as much, with 45% of respondents indicating that they’ve experienced mental health stigmas at work. To change that, managers should start an open conversation with their charges about mental health issues and make it clear that they’re nothing to be ashamed of. Creating an open culture that encourages employees to ask for help and support when they need it goes a long way toward improving the overall mental health of the workforce.

Offer an employee assistance program

Although the idea has been around for a long time here in Australia, there aren’t many businesses that offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to their staff. That’s a shame because EAPs are one of the best ways a business can take direct action to improve the mental health of their employees. It isn’t enough to simply offer an EAP though. It’s critical for companies that offer one to advertise its features to employees and encourage them to take advantage of them. When looking for an EAP service provider, however, decision-makers should take care to find one that uses only qualified psychologists to provide counselling services. Many EAP services elect not to do so to keep costs low – but if mental health support is a primary goal of providing an EAP, it only makes sense for businesses to insist on high-quality providers.

Design a wellness program

There’s something to be said for the old axiom that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. For that reason, any workplace mental health initiative should also have a solid wellness program alongside it. Creating one can be as simple as subsidising gym memberships or encouraging employees to use health apps to track their progress as they build healthy habits. Bringing in nutritionists and chefs to offer training on healthy meal preparation is also an excellent option, both for its direct wellness benefits, as well as for the inherent teambuilding effects. Wherever possible, employees should be incentivised to participate in the wellness program, either through awards and recognition or direct cash benefits. Doing so will increase the positive effects of the program and help to improve overall workforce mental health at the same time.

A healthy workplace

Any company that takes steps to make sure that their employees’ mental health is a business priority and builds a supportive workplace that’s free of stigmatization will reap the rewards of having a happier, more engaged workforce. The ideas listed here are just a few of the simple ways that any company can go about achieving this worthwhile goal. The alternative is to sacrifice productivity and market share as more employees reach their burnout stage and leave, or worse – stay and do a poor job. Since that’s an outcome that can’t be allowed, the solution is clear: Australian businesses must take action now to protect their bottom lines and the health and wellbeing of their most valuable resource, which is the workforce that powers their success.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Executive Editor at Best in Australia. Mike has spent over a decade covering news related to business leaders and entrepreneurs around Australia and across the world. You can contact Mike here.
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