13 May 2015

6 Strategies for creating mentally healthy workplaces

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Like a lot of people out there – employers and employees alike – when I thought of workplace wellbeing, health and safety I really only thought of physical injuries. I only ever associated injury prevention with that big, yellow plastic sign on the floor warning me ‘CAUTION – Slippery when wet’. 

Psychological injury first became a reality for me a few years ago when my mother began coming home from work on the verge of tears every night and going straight to bed. Shortly after this began, she was diagnosed with ‘professional exhaustion’; a fancy way of saying that she had burn out. My mother sought medical help, took some time off, was surrounded by loving friends and family and had great support from her colleagues when she returned to work a few weeks later.

Although my mother was lucky to have a strong support network, I do wonder if her ‘professional exhaustion’ would have occurred had she worked in a healthier environment. The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance has come up with 6 strategies for creating mentally healthy workplaces to avoid having your employees go through the same story:

1.       Smarter work design

Ensure flexibility and governance (letting individuals and teams have a say) whenever possible.

2.       Build better work cultures

Providing training to increase awareness is truly important, but it’s only one part of the solution. You also need to ensure that senior staff is proactive in their support and that develop policies against bullying and discrimination.

3.       Build resilience

Stress and resilience training based on evidence-based approaches is a non-negotiable for employees in high risk jobs. Access to coaching, mentoring and opportunities for regular psychical activities are also known for having positive impacts on employee resilience.  

4.       Early intervention

If workers are aware of the help that is available to them, they are much more likely to seek help. Similarly to some workplaces that carryout drug testing, research suggests that wellbeing checks should be implemented in every workplace once mental health support is in place.

Supervisors and managers have a major role to play in assuring employee wellbeing, but so do fellow colleagues. Providing staff training and peer support is a good way of encouraging early interventions.

5.       Support recovery

Teaching managers and supervisors ways of dealing with and recovering from stressful events is the key to convalescence. Return to work programmes, offering flexibility and setting new expectations are also crucial elements in the rehabilitation process. Last but most certainly not least, make sure that an employee returning to work is not discriminated against.   

6.       Increase awareness

At the end of the day, a mentally healthy workplace comes down to how aware we are of the prevalence of mental illnesses. Ways of increasing awareness include:

·         providing access to information and support
·         updating programmes to bring mental health concerns to the forefront of employees’ minds
·         including mental health training in induction development
·         engage in programmes such as R U OK? Day

Creating a policy or raising a concern is meaningless if it isn’t followed by concrete actions to show you actually want to make a change. These strategies may seem fairly logical and intuitive, but they must be actively promoted to have any impact. Adopting these six strategies are the first step to reducing the number of employees affected my ‘professional exhaustion’ and other psychological workplace injuries. 

For more details, please read the whole report reviewing the research done the Alliance on creating mentally healthy workplace. 

Although Alexandra didn’t know much about conference production before first coming across this opportunity with Akolade, she has quickly become passionate about her job. Gaining in-depth knowledge in a variety of new fields without going through exam stress? Who could ask for more? If ever you speak to Alexandra and wonder what that funny accent is, it is from Quebec, French-speaking Canada. Do not hesitate to ask Alexandra about her former life on the 47th parallel; she will be thrilled to talk to you about snow storms, skiing and -35⁰c!

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