The most important thing for improving mental health at work

Tuesday, 5 July, 2016 - 10:00
Industry news


The most powerful predictor for wellbeing at work is supportive leadership, according to an expert in the area, who said this style of leadership sees more employees feel as though they can reach out for support when they are not travelling well.

However, it is important to point out that managers are not expected to be counsellors or psychologists, as their responsibility is to recognise when an employee is not travelling well, have a supportive conversation with them, link them in with support and then continue to check in with them while they recover.

“We find that people often recognise that a colleague or an employee is not travelling well, yet they don’t take the next step in having a conversation with them to see if they are okay,” said Rachel Clements, a registered organisational psychologist and the cofounder and director of Psychological Services at the Centre for Corporate Health.

The ability for employers and managers to help manage mental illness in the workplace varies significantly, according to Clements, who said this depends on how much training or experience managers have had with mental health.

“This is usually because they don’t know what to say,” she said.

“They don’t know what to do if they say they are not okay, or they think that by talking about it, it might make it worse.

“This is especially common in industries such as the legal profession or finance, which are full of high achievers, and those with perfectionistic tendencies.”

In these environments, Clements said managers often don’t feel like they would know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all.

This is slowly changing, though, as these industries begin to focus on equipping their staff with the skills to have these conversations.

“We also see organisations often focus their attention on just preventative measures or just intervention measures instead of taking a holistic approach,” said Clements.

There are a number of emerging trends in mental illness in the workplace, and she said organisations which are investing time, money and resources into initiatives aimed at creating a mentally healthy workplace are seeing results.

“These organisations are seeing significant positive changes across all areas of the business including reduced staff turnover, reduced absenteeism/presenteeism and a reduction in workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury,” she said.

For organisations to continue on their path to creating mentally healthy workplaces, Clements said mental health needs to stay on the radar.

“This means making sure that policies and procedures are not onerous for those wanting to reach out for support, embedding mental health in the everyday language of the workplace, taking the lead in de-stigmatisation and keeping it at the forefront when on-boarding new managers,” she said.

It is also important for managers and leaders to be confident in themselves about what their role is when it comes to an employee who is not travelling well, and knowing what best-practice support services they need to link employees in with.

“Just like mitigating physical injuries in the workplace, OHS leaders need to continue the shift from reacting to psychological injuries and mental health concerns once they have occurred to preventing them from coming to fruition in the first place,” she said.

“This means getting to know the unique psychosocial risk factors that are present in their industry and in their organisation and implementing proactive policies, procedures and operational practices for reducing these risks.”