An employee or colleague who is struggling can’t leave their issues at home - having workplace conversations about mental health is the best thing you can do to improve your business.
It’s a new year and my LinkedIn feed has been flooded with optimistic messages of people’s hopes, dreams and goals for their work and their business. I love this time of year - that uplifting and euphoric feeling that comes with new beginnings is infectious and anything seems possible.
But, unfortunately, that feeling rarely lasts and for many of us it will give way to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression as work starts to pile up and personal issues begin to strain our relationships. Looking at the months ahead, how can you identify an employee or colleague who is struggling, and what can you do to help them?
NOMATTER THE TRIGGER, PROVIDE HELP
Research conducted by beyondblue in 2014 revealed that one in five Australian employees had taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the preceding 12 months.
While some mental health issues can have workplace triggers, such as job stress, toxic cultural environments and overwork, many others are triggered by personal factors in an employee’s life. However, this does not mean help shouldn’t be provided within the workplace.
During my time working with dozens of companies and organisations around Australia, I’ve witnessed first hand how helping employees improve their mental health can be one of the most important steps to improve a worker’s productivity, as well as the health of the entire organisation.
In fact, 75 per cent of Australian employees believe workplaces should provide support to someone who is experiencing depression or anxiety, but many employees (35 per cent) don’t know what mental health resources exist in their organisation or don’t have access to them. That’s why providing an open and safe environment to have mental health conversations is so crucial.
DOES SOMEONE YOU KNOW NEED HELP?
Employees are often fearful of raising mental health concerns with their employer due to stigma and concerns about future job prospects. Which means, it’s not always enough to wait for an employee or colleague to come asking for help – sometimes you have to go to them.
If someone you work with closely seems increasingly withdrawn or disengaged, is easily distracted, no longer producing work to their usual standard, is increasingly irritable or more absent than usual they may be struggling with their mental health.
You spend hours with your workmates, often in highly stressful situations, so if you find yourself saying “they’ve changed”, “that’s not usually like them” or “they don’t seem ok” then your instincts are probably correct. But, what do you do next?
SUPPORTING SOMEONE WHO IS STRUGGLING
Raising your concerns with an employee or colleague about their mental health can seem like a daunting task, and, perhaps you might question whether it is even your place to do so at all? But silence is the very thing that feeds depression and anxiety and allows it to grow – caring too much about someone is never a bad thing.
So, firstly, plan your approach. Increase your mental health literacy and find out what options your workplace has available to provide help. Be prepared that the person may get angry or upset and try not to take it personally. And, approach them in a neutral environment, over coffee or lunch for instance, and allow the person to talk to give them the space and ability to open up.
Our mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum – we aren’t only mentally unwell at home or outside the office. It is everyone’s responsibility, from the CEO and HR to managers and assistants, to make it easier to have conversations about mental health in the workplace.
My hope for 2021is that all Australian employees feel healthy, happy and productive – so let’s start the conversation.
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