A new report shows workplaces have improved mental health initiatives, but there is still a long way to go.
October 10 is World Mental Health day. Started in 1992, by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) the day was created to raise awareness and generate public interest in mental health issues.
Fast forward to 2020 and we are amidst the greatest mental health challenge to face the current generation. Bushfires, COVID-19 and a recession have caused untold stress on all Australians so it’s no wonder a recent study found that three in five Australian workers have reported experiencing a mental health condition this year. That’s a jump of nine per cent from last year.
National mental health organisation SuperFriend, surveyed over 10-thousand workers for their annual Indicators of a Thriving Workplace and found, although the numbers of mental health conditions are up, the response from workplaces has actually improved.
“An index score of 80 or higher is what we would class as thriving,” SuperFriend CEO, Margot Lydon told the media at the report’s release.
“In 2020, the National thriving workplace score for Australia has risen 2.4 points to 65.1. This means we are slowly inching in the right direction for workplaces and workers. However, only five per cent of Australian workplaces are at what we would define as thriving. So we still have a long way to go.”
The report uses 40 indicators to determine a thriving workplace. These indicators are split into five domains: capability, leadership, culture, connectedness and policy. The 2020 report shows all five domains have improved, particularly policy, leadership, and connectedness.
We’re feeling more together than ever
Connectedness came up a few times in the report as the researchers found workers felt they were more connected with other employees while working from home and said they had greater access to leaders.
Over 70 per cent of employees that had worked from home for over a month said they felt more connected to their colleagues. When everyone worked from home that feeling of connectedness increased to 71.3 per cent. Only 67 per cent of employees who worked on-site said they felt more connected to their colleagues.
“These results clearly indicate that people are paying attention to and creating opportunities for building a stronger sense of belonging and connectedness at work like never before,” says Lydon
The report suggests this connectivity is what is reducing staff turnover despite the fact that employees feel overworked and more stressed than ever.
Nearly half of respondents said they were working more but not by choice, and half of those said their jobs were ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ stressful.
Productivity has increased, temporarily
“There was a surprising increase in the proportion of workers who were more productive during the pandemic up four percentage points from February to nearly 30 per cent in June,” says Lydon.
“The most popular productivity boosters were identified as reduced commute to work, which makes a lot of sense, more comfortable clothing, and flexible work hours.”
However, with the jump in mental health conditions among employees it is possible that productivity boost won’t last. Almost 60 per cent of respondents said mental health concerns were the most common reason for reduced pandemic productivity among organisations.
A 2019 draft report from the Australian Government Productivity Commission found that lost productivity due to mental illness costs the economy between $10-18 billion every year. But investing in mental health support can improve productivity. A Deloitte study found that for every dollar spent on workplace mental health, organisations made five-dollars.
“Our research shows that the more tangible actions that workplaces take to improve workplace mental health and well being, the more workers feel supported and enjoy their jobs, the more staff retention improves the greater the productivity gains,” says Lydon.
Lydon also says making mental health support accessible and visible in the workplace reduces stigma and workplace psychological injury claims.
Lack of action
Unfortunately, the report found only 50 per cent of organisations were taking action to address mental health issues.
National Mental Health Commission chair, Lucy Brogden, who also spoke at the report’s release says a lack of action probably has to do with a low level of mental health literacy in organisational leadership.
“There’s a real opportunity for us to skill up,” says Brogden, “not just our HR departments, not just our workplace health and safety departments, but all leaders and managers. An investment in that kind of training for our leaders has a positive return for the business.”
Brogden says most leaders want to improve their mental health support services but some are unsure where to start, and others have been burnt by investing in inadequate mental health frameworks.
She hopes the National Workplace Initiative will help organisations in that respect but says employers need to remember though investments like this can take time, they are worth it.
“We all say in our organisation that our greatest asset is our people, then it’s about investing time, it’s about investing strategy, and it’s investing in programmes that will really lift the wellbeing of our staff, protect their mental health,” says Brogden
Thriving workplace practices
Lydon and the SuperFriend team say there are 11 prevalent practices they noticed in thriving workplaces:
- Ongoing training for leaders in mental health and wellbeing
- Employee access to mental health and wellbeing education
- Active promotion of professional development opportunities
- Transparency around mental health policies and processes
- Effective practices to combat workplace bullying and harassment
- Return to work policies for employees who have taken time off for their mental health
- Rewards and recognition programs for good work
- Transparent decision making to ease employee stress
- Policies to facilitate smooth change or workplace transitions that support employee concerns
- Employees assistance to balance work and family life
- Access to confidential counselling or support services
Want to learn more about team resilience during this troubling time? Dr Michelle McQuaid will talk about building and maintaining resilient teams at the upcoming SHIFT20 conference. Register now.