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How to promote a mentally healthy workplace

​Promoting a mentally healthy workplace should always play a key role in business leadership. Not only are we legally obligated to do so as employers, but it also makes good business sense – healthy and happy employees are more productive, there's less absenteeism, and a great work culture attracts and retains top talent.

However, in the current conditions it's becoming increasingly difficult to support our employee's wellbeing. For some, forced remote working has led to increased feelings of isolation. It's also blurred the division between work and home life almost completely, which increases the chance of burnout and our inability to ‘wind down'. Plus, there's also other stressors like economic, relationship and health issues that all have an impact on our mental health.

Additionally, as we start to return to our workplaces many employees will feel anxiety. It's normal for us to feel anxious when there's major changes in our lives. For instance, such a change could be working remotely and then having to shift to commute on public transport and work in an office environment again. Compounding this, COVID-19 is a genuine health concern. Even if the risk is minimal to none, it can take time to let go of the fear that was generated during the initial lockdown period.

Therefore, it's crucial for us to ensure we have appropriate measures in place to look after our workforce, whether they're still working remotely or have started to work in an office environment again. Stephen Carbone, who is the Director of Prevention United, a mental health charity, recommends organisations should demonstrate an interest in their workers' mental health and wellbeing. He states:

“Research shows organisations characterised by a high psychosocial climate (PSC) have happier, more engaged, and more productive staff than organisations with a low PSC. A high PSC organisation is one where workers believe their employers and managers care about their employee's mental health and wellbeing. Workers believe their leaders ‘have got their back' and are willing to implement strategies that promote the positive aspects of work and reduce psychological hazards in the workplace, like bullying and discrimination.”

At Paxus, we have always had a physical, mental and financial wellbeing program in place to support our employees. However, like with many organisations, we had to quickly pivot our Learning and Development Program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As our entire workforce was mobilised to work remotely within days, it was our primary focus to help our staff be as comfortable and productive as possible. So, our initial activities included things like distributing ergonomic setup tips and wellbeing training.

Our next priority is launching a training program for our managers on ‘Resilience and Returning to Work with Confidence'. These will be led by a mental health professional in a workshop style to enable our managers to help build their own and their team's mental resilience, as well as learning how to identify those who may be struggling and the ways in which to support them.

Stephen also believes it's important for employers to encourage self-care, as good mental health and wellbeing at work is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. One way that we're doing this at Paxus is by introducing an online wellbeing portal for our employees to access at any time they need to. This will contain a plethora of information relating to nutrition, wellbeing, mindfulness and so on. And to help spark engagement and connection, as well as some friendly competition amongst staff, we're also planning to run a number of mini-challenges throughout the year.

On top of training and our wellness portal, we'll make a concerted effort to minimise our returning employees' anxiety by having open lines of communication with management, frequent companywide townhalls and team meetings. This will be an opportunity to advise what the current situation is for their office and the steps we've taken to mitigate any risk of contracting COVID-19 to allay any fears they might have.

Finally, as business leaders it's important that we are all aware of and look after our own mental wellbeing too. It's easy to put our businesses first. However, by consistently doing this and forgetting to look after ourselves can have immense negative consequences – not only personally but professionally as well.

If you would like more information on self-care strategies, download Prevention United's Staying Ahead eBook.

Plus, there are several other organisations that also have great resources for business leaders. Check out Beyond Blue's Heads Up program, the Black Dog Institute, Thrive at Work, or SuperFriend.

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