The time for taking mental health in the workplace seriously has passed. It is now vital for employers to be taking active action on addressing the mental health challenges their workforce faces.

Why? Because of the prevalence of full time employees who have reported they have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition at work.

This means the vast majority of your team has likely come to work experiencing signs and symptoms such as feeling sad or down, confused thinking, reduced ability to concentrate, excessive fears or worries, extreme mood changes, significant tiredness, inability to cope with daily problems or stress or problems with alcohol or drug use. It’s fair to say that many of the leaders reading this piece have also likely experienced these same symptoms at some point or another. We all know it has been a truly tough year on professional and personal fronts, and we have asked so much more of our employees than ever before.

We have all seen economies, travel, countries and populations severely impacted from the pandemic, and this in-your-face, all-consuming focus has led to many a sleepless night and nervous news conference for everyone we know.

But, how do these experiences impact a company’s bottom line?

Mental-ill health costs the NZ economy $10.4B, whilst anxiety costs another $1.75B. We know for every dollar an organisation spends on mental wellbeing programmes, they experience an average return of $4.20. It is overwhelmingly clear that companies who fail to address mental wellness are bleeding money.

From workplace gyms, resilience training, to flexible working programs, it’s the same message: regardless of what benefit you prioritise, you will see a reward in the wellbeing of your people and to your bottom line by implementing a focus on mental wellness.

So, what can we do as leaders to overcome this impact?

To actually make an impact to our workforce, workplaces need to shift their view on the concept of wellness. We tend to deal with the problem as it happens, or after the fact, rather than taking a proactive approach. I challenge you to ponder the impact we could have by understanding factors such as workload and by proactively providing enough space, time, and resources for our people to manage their health and wellbeing.

Placing mental health at the centre of your wellbeing strategy will be foundational to any success. Following this, we need to give tools to our people to help them understand what mental health issues are and the sort of potential challenges they may face, to see greater shared understanding between employer and employee. Whatever your program looks like, I believe it needs to include these five design principles:

1. Physical: Promoting the mental health benefits of physical activity and good general health.

2. Mental: Encouraging awareness through training, mental wellbeing leave and encouraging transparent dialogue.

3. Space and Role: Creating positive organisational design that directly influences employee motivation and happiness.

4. Culture: Nurturing a positive workplace culture that is transparent, inclusive and has workload balance.

5. Ecosystems/Partnerships: Developing partnership and alliances between all parties to improve communication, engagement and mental health recovery.

If you’re still not sold there’s an issue, in the last five years across New Zealand and Australia, we’ve seen 250,000 claims with some aspect of mental health included. This is a really concerning trend that we seek to address through specialised providers, proactive programs and advice to our clients around improving their workplace mental wellness.

After all, thousands of studies have shown that psychological and mental issues will last far longer than our physical injuries, so just as we have safety measures in place for our people if they were to break their leg at work, we must start protecting the minds of our people.

To learn more about how we can help you address workplace wellbeing, connect with our team of experts.

Blog Author

Craig Furness

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