Women In Business

7 new ways for companies to approach mental well-being better

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When we talk about mental health these days, we immediately jump to mental illness as if they are the same thing. It is a shame because focussing on mental wellbeing is actually a positive thing and employers really need to rethink how they nurture it in the workplace.

Mental illness is a hot talking point and there is a lot of focus currently placed on how costly it is to organisations, to society, to the country. Time and time again, we are presented statistics like: one in four people suffer from mental illness. While it is important to recognise these issues, the messaging surround them can be depressing and demoralising.

As vital as it is to be vigilant about those who need help, it is time we also focused on the three in four who are mentally well. Most of us are doing ok, coping with families, juggling our workloads and bouncing back from stressful situations.

Mental health also encompasses mental wellness and should not be automatically associated with illness.

Even when we’re going fine, it is always possible to do better and to become more mentally fit, agile and flexible.

For businesses, investing in the mental wellness of employees is hugely beneficial and warrants proper consideration. The truth is that not only do individuals benefit when their mental wellness is nurtured, their employers also benefits through positive and motivated environments, greater energy, momentum, and notably, more productivity.

In 2019, I propose that organisations invest in their employee’s mental wellness in the following ways:

  1. Research continues to confirm the benefits of exercise – not only for our bodies, but for our minds. Not just for the major players, but where possible, organisations should prioritise either having a gym on-site or subsidising gym memberships for their staff. Flexible working hours would enable an individual to exercise at a suitable hour and not necessarily at the end of a long hard day or at the crack of dawn. Allowing time during working hours to take advantage of gym perks would maximise performance, not reduce it.
  2. Fast foods, fatty foods and processed foods are detrimental to our physical and mental health. It’s not exactly breaking news but eating green leafy vegetables has been shown to improve mood. Companies should not reward staff for working through their breaks but, instead, encourage enough time out to eat mindfully. Where the organisations have a canteen, only healthy foods should be provided and access to a nutritionist made possible.
  3. Daily practice of mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, gratitude has been shown to have a remarkable effect on wellbeing. A quiet room should be available, and individuals be allowed to visit it whenever they feel the need. Ten minutes of relaxation can reset the whole day – it’s much more preferable than pushing through on limited fuel and focus.
  4. Getting support before a problem escalates would save huge sums of money and time trying to fit it. The old adage “a stitch in time saves nine” still applies. The way to do this is to create a psychologically safe environment. In other words, create a culture where no one is penalised when they make a mistake or are struggling. In fact, individuals should be encouraged to fess up when they are having difficulties so that the initial stitch can be stitched.  We all make mistakes, we all struggle and when we support each other it is so much easier to get through the day. Managers should share their struggles, make mentors available and when necessary, refer an individual for counselling. (Many large organisations rush to this solution, but by putting other initiatives in place, in many circumstances you can prevent it from reaching this stage).
  5. Most people today are time poor and spend most of their time at work. Not only do I think that online training done after work is appalling and destructive to a person’s health, I think working hours are the best time to invest in your staff’s health. For instance, conflict management skills can be taught. This will benefit the workplace as well as their personal relationships. Happy relationships tend to spill over into positive energy in the workplace.
  6. Parenting can cause stress and employees often feel that their children should be “invisible” at work. This is not only unkind and unreasonable but puts a huge burden on parents to split their lives. Not only should organisations acknowledge that children exist, parents should have the flexibility to be available for calls from the school and to bring their children into work if they are sick but not contagious. A child friendly room should be available, and an onsite nanny would be life changing. Watch your employees’ loyalty sky rocket and their tendency to give back to rise – leading to increased, high quality output.
  7. Psycho-education about drugs and alcohol should be provided. Too many Australians are in denial about their drinking habits, which definitely impact their home and business lives.

Organisations have the capacity to be a force for good. They can create the space and opportunities for employees to develop mental health and maintain it. It is unrealistic and cruel to expect workers to find the time, energy and money to look after their health outside of work hours.

However, if mental wellness is built into the work space, it becomes doable.

Instead of pouring millions into stress management and EAP, invest in health. Mental wellbeing does not happen in an hour a week (therapy) or two days a year (stress management training). Mental and physical wellness comes from investing time every day into good habits: eating well, exercising, sleeping enough and deeply, and working on issues as they arise.

About Renee Mill

Renee Mill is a Senior Clinical Psychologist at Anxiety Solutions CBT, and author of Anxiety Free, Drug Free and Parenting Without Anger. She has worked as a clinical psychologist in private practice for over 30 years and is the owner of stress and anxiety clinic Anxiety Solutions CBT, located in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. She has successfully treated hundreds of individuals, couples and families, and has appeared as an expert commentator on stress, anxiety and depression for TODAY, The Morning Show, ABC Radio, News.com.au and more.

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