How to combat mental health in a post-COVID workplace

Mental health has always been an issue faced by individuals and community and pre-COVID, it was estimated that 1 in 5 people were directly impacted by mental health issues, costing Australian businesses upwards of $10.9 billion per year. The impact of COVID-19, including global lockdowns, company closures, employee furloughs, redundancies, isolation and constant changes in an increasingly uncertain world, meant that our collective mental health took a big hit. It is now estimated that 1 in 3 individuals are directly impacted by mental health issues.

This increase in mental health issues has had a ripple effect across all parts of the community, from families and schools to workplaces and businesses. Some of the ways in which these mental health struggles are manifesting in the workplace include through situational depression, anxiety, general lethargy and lack of productivity.

So how do we tackle this growing problem in a world still reeling from the pandemic and still uncertain for many businesses and their employees?

Workplace wellbeing is no longer a nice thing to have, it is a must-have. Strong organisational cultures have employee welfare at the core of their business, contributing to a company that is more successful, productive and profitable. The many advantages of a mentally healthy workplace include increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, fewer workers’ compensation claims and a happier, more motivated workforce.

We all like the sound of that! But how do we actually create a workplace where employees thrive? Here are seven things you can do to contribute to a mentally healthy workplace.

1. Increase general awareness around common mental health issues.

Invest in training managers and employees to help them identify those in their teams who may be dealing with mental health issues.

2. Train and develop better leaders.

A recent Forbes article indicated that bad bosses can literally make people sick! Investing in your team and managers to become true leaders is not only good for people but also good for business. Invest in and train your emerging, middle and developing managers to become stronger leaders. Bad bosses not only lead to lower employee engagement, higher turnover and increased costs for organisations, they can also impact employees’ mental and financial health..

3. Create a culture where everyone is encouraged to speak up about mental health issues.

Take away the stigma around mental health problems and your employees will feel more comfortable seeking help if they are struggling. This will help them overcome their challenges faster and reduce the level of lost productivity and absenteeism that often results from untreated mental health issues.

4. Provide support for employees who may be struggling with mental health challenges.

This could come in the form of free telephone or in-person counselling; access to resources; executive coaching; training and development; or paid time off. While there is a cost associated with providing support, a PwC report points out that for every dollar spent on acting, there is $2.30 to be gained in benefits. Increase awareness regarding your Employee Assistance Plans and take away the stigma of these programs.

5. Be a role model for positive self-care.

Take regular breaks, demonstrate a healthy work–life balance, and encourage your employees to do the same. Avoid creating a culture where employees feel they need to work all hours of the day and night and burn themselves out, as this is a significant cause of mental health issues in the workplace.

6. Encourage respectful communication and interaction between employees.

Bullying is a huge cause of mental health issues in the workplace. By creating a culture of respect and encouraging positive interactions between co-workers, you can help reduce the potential for stress-related mental health issues associated with harassment or bullying. Bullies are not always intentionally behaving badly. Sometimes bullies are simply untrained, unsupported leaders in waiting.

7. Clarify employees’ job descriptions and KPIs.

Uncertainty around roles and responsibilities can be a major source of workplace stress, which can affect mental health. Make sure job descriptions, the scope of work and KPIs are clear and unambiguous.

Any organisation that wants a productive workforce needs to take steps towards creating a mentally healthy workplace. These tips can help you promote positive mental health in your organisation and enjoy the long-term benefits of happier and more motivated employees.

If you are interested to find out more about how Peeplcoach is supporting organisations, employees and teams to navigate the complexity of a post-COVID world, talk to one of our founders.