Employee engagement, recruitment and retention will be key challenges for HR practitioners in 2019, and a mentally healthy workplace will be a deciding factor for many employees in the new year.
Last month Oxford Dictionary declared ‘toxic’ as its ‘Word of 2018’. I feel confident that this year’s winner will resonate with a lot more people than last year’s somewhat bizarre choice – ‘youthquake’.
We use ‘toxic’ to describe everything from chemicals and masculinity to relationships, and it says a lot about the past 12 months that this word has seen a 45 per cent surge on the Oxford Dictionary website. In 2018 many patients, friends and colleagues expressed to me a heightened feeling that ‘toxic’ encounters, cultures and relationships are everywhere, and I have witnessed the toll this is taking on their mental health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, in my experience, the place that people most often describe as ‘toxic’ is the workplace, and the results of this year’s Indicators of a Thriving Workplace Survey should be a wakeup call to businesses around the country.
PRESENT BUT NOT PRODUCTIVE
Over 5,000 Australian workers across a broad range of industries were surveyed for the Thriving Workplace study and bullying was declared the second reason (24 per cent) people experienced mental issues at work, only slightly behind job insecurity (29 per cent) in the top spot. Equally concerning is that only 18 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that “work feels like a community where people support each other beyond just getting work done”.
Employees who experience mental health issues at work will have lower self-esteem, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism and presenteeism. In fact, the impact of employees’ mental health conditions on productivity, participation and compensation claims was estimated by PwC in 2014 to cost Australian businesses at least $10.9 billion a year.
In my work over the past eight years consulting with businesses on workplace performance, I know that presenteeism, the practice of being at work for longer hours than required though not being fully functioning or productive, can be the hardest issue to combat. The signs an employee is struggling are not immediately obvious as they continue to ‘present’ themselves at work, and a ‘toxic’ culture encourages employees to trudge along rather than seek help. And then, with what seems like no warning at all, that employee quits. An Employer of Choice Study by BeyondBlue revealed that almost half the employees surveyed had left a workplace because it had a poor environment in terms of mental health.
AN EASY CHOICE
So, what’s the good news in all of this? Well, the same BeyondBlue survey stated that a mentally healthy workplace that was both friendly and supportive and promoted and protected the mental health of its employees was the second most powerful inhibitor of a worker leaving their job.
With employee retention becoming even harder as more millennials enter the workforce, having a proactive and accessible mental health support plan is a clear point of difference for any business. On-site workshops and trainings on shifting ‘toxic’ culture norms and implementing anti-bullying behaviours are important, as well as telehealth services that employees can access with ease when they need them.
I have seen businesses thrive once they banish ‘toxic’ behaviours from the workplace and make mental health support a cornerstone of their employee engagement strategy – 2019 could be your business’ most productive year yet.