Is your workplace mentally healthy? Why this matters for health services in particular
In this blogpost, Emerson Health consultant Felicity Reibelt discusses mentally healthy workplaces. She considers what makes a workplace mentally healthy, why it’s important for health services, and shares some of our experiences from Emerson Health.
Over the past (almost) two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of looking after our mental health and wellbeing to the fore. For most of us, the pandemic has changed the way we live and work, and while our experiences may differ depending on where we live and the type of work we do, the importance of looking after our mental health and wellbeing remains paramount.
In the health sector, the mental health of health professionals is an ongoing concern, with evidence suggesting that health professionals are at greater risk of experiencing anxiety, depression and suicide (1). With the added pressures of working on the frontline during a pandemic, workplace risk factors for health professionals include heavy workloads, long working hours, shift work, compassion fatigue, exposure to trauma, and abuse/mistreatment from patients and patients’ families (2).
To comply with the Australian Work Health Safety (WHS) legislation, employers must take steps to protect workers against risks to both their physical and mental health. However, according to a recent report from Beyond Blue, while 90% of employees think mental health is an important issue for organisations, only 50% believe their workplace is mentally healthy (3).
In this blog, we discuss what a mentally healthy workplace is, why creating a mentally healthy workplace is important and why this particularly matters for health services. We’ll also share some of the ideas and strategies we have developed to create our own mentally healthy workplace here at Emerson Health and some links to helpful resources that can support you through this process in your organisation.
So what is a mentally healthy workplace exactly?
While workplaces and organisations come in all shapes and sizes, there are some key characteristics that mentally healthy workplaces have in common;
Positive workplace culture: Put simply, people should feel good about coming to work. Having a positive workplace culture means team members feel supported, encouraged and comfortable at work.
Risks to mental wellbeing are managed: Unrealistic timelines, poor communication and unmanageable workloads can all contribute to stress, anxiety and poor mental wellbeing. Leaders and managers should take action to keep these risks in check.
Specific strategies and policies are used to support mental wellbeing: Supporting the mental wellbeing of your team has benefits for everyone. Mentally healthy workplaces have specific strategies and policies in place to support employee mental wellbeing (4).
Why is creating a mentally healthy workplace important?
Mental health and wellbeing is not simply the absence of having a mental illness. Our mental health exists on a continuum that ranges from healthy functioning at one end, to severe symptoms that impact everyday activities at the other. In response to different stressors or circumstances, our mental health can move back and forth along this continuum throughout our life.
With so much of our time spent at work, the workplace is a very important and influential environment when it comes to our mental health. A positive and supportive work environment can mean the difference between being at the green end of the spectrum or the orange or red (2).
Workplaces that have positive and supportive cultures that promote and prioritise the mental wellbeing of their employees reap the rewards of increased positivity and productivity. These organisations not only attract the top talent but are able to retain them by being great places to work. Here are the top three benefits of creating a mentally healthy workplace from an organisational perspective;
Your team will be more engaged: Investing in and creating a more mentally healthy workplace will help to motivate and engage your team. It’s likely that morale will be higher and staff may be more willing to go above and beyond to deliver excellent work.
There is a positive return on investment: Research by PwC has shown that workplaces will on average receive a positive return on investment of $2.30 for every $1.00 spent on workplace mental health initiatives (5). These benefits are realised from a reduction in presenteeism, absenteeism, and compensation claims. This tool from Heads Up can help you calculate the potential cost savings of taking action to create a mentally healthy workplace.
Become an employer of choice: Research has found that 75% of Australian employees view workplace mental health initiatives as being important when looking for a job (6). Being known as an organisation that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing can make you an employer of choice and help you recruit and retain the best people.
Why is this especially important for health services?
While creating a mentally healthy workplace is important for all organisations, the unique nature of the health services environment arguably makes this even more important. There is evidence that doctors and nurses experience higher levels of psychological distress than the general population. Young doctors, medical students and doctors working in rural and remote areas are particularly vulnerable to poor mental health (7).
Creating a positive and supportive working environment that promotes the mental wellbeing of all staff is not only ethically responsible but there are many benefits to health services in being mentally healthy. In addition to the benefits outlined above, research suggests that patient experiences are better when health staff feel they have a positive working environment, aren’t emotionally exhausted, and are supported by their colleagues and managers (2). The below quote from an Australian nurse sums it up perfectly; to be able to effectively care for others, you first need to care for yourself.
Some ideas and strategies we’ve embedded at Emerson Health
Creating a mentally healthy workplace isn't as difficult as you might think. At the end of this blog, you will find links to some helpful resources that can support you through the process of creating a mentally healthy workplace. At Emerson Health, we are committed to maintaining and promoting the wellbeing of our people. Below are some of the practical ideas and strategies we have found effective, that you may also be able to implement in your organisation;
Doona Days: In addition to standard annual leave entitlements, our team members are expected to take advantage of two days per year of leave at short notice to support mental wellbeing
Free counselling service: Our team has access to a confidential and free counsellor through our employee assistance program delivered by Choose Life Services
Team barometer: Each morning during our daily stand up, our team members share a self-rating against our team barometer (pictured below). This creates transparency around workload and pressure and allows us to protect the wellbeing of our team by taking steps to manage excess pressure if required
Mental first aid training: As part of our ongoing professional learning and onboarding processes, our team members complete a First Aid for the Mind online course through St John Ambulance. The course covers the principles of crisis intervention, how to recognise, respond and provide support to people who may be at risk and where to go for assistance
Flexible working policy: Our team members are offered flexibility in where, when and how they work, to support work-life balance and overall wellbeing
Physical environment: Although many of us have been working from home lately due to COVID, we have taken steps to make our physical working spaces as comfortable as possible with standing desks, ergonomic office chairs and bringing some life to our offices with plants. Sometimes it’s the simple things that can make a big difference
Listed below are some helpful resources where you can go to find practical advice, information and tools to take action to create a mentally healthy workplace. Headsup have created a how-to guide for developing a workplace mental health strategy specifically for health services, which is also linked below.
Heads Up is an initiative of beyond blue, in collaboration with the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, that aims to give individuals and businesses the tools to create mentally healthy workplaces. The training and resources section of the website has a range of resources to support you through the process of creating a mentally healthy workplace including fact sheets, brochures, and online learning programs.
Developing a workplace mental health strategy: A how-to guide for health services was developed as part of the beyond blue Workplace and Workforce program. The guide provides practical, step-by-step guidance for health services to develop and implement a tailored mental health and wellbeing strategy for their staff and drive organisation-wide change toward a culture of positive mental health and wellbeing in health services.
SuperFriend is a national mental health promotion foundation focused on creating mentally healthy workplaces to reduce the incidence of suicide and the impact of mental illness on individuals and organisations.
Safe Work Australia is an independent statutory body responsible for leading the development of policy to improve work health and safety and workers’ compensation arrangements across Australia.
Heads Up. Statistics and references. Heads Up - Better mental health in the workplace. [Online] 2021. https://www.headsup.org.au/training-and-resources/statistics-and-references#sec-health-services.
Beyond Blue. Developing a workplace mental health strategy A how-to guide for health services. [Online] 2021. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/387688_0917_bl1728_v2_acc_lr.pdf?sfvrsn=77c6274d_6.
Beyond Blue. State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia. [Online] 2014. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=94e47a4d_8.
Heads Up. Why it matters. Healthy workplaces. [Online] 2021. https://www.headsup.org.au/healthy-workplaces/why-it-matters.
PwC. Creating a mentally healthy workplace: Return on investment analysis. [Online] 2014. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/research-by-pricewaterhouse-coopers.pdf?sfvrsn=3149534d_2.
Beyond Blue. Employer of Choice Study. [Online] 2014. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/instinct_and_reason_employer_of_choice.pdf?sfvrsn=4.
Beyond Blue. National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students. [Online] 2019. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/about-beyond-blue/research-project-files/bl1132-report---nmhdmss-full-report_web.pdf?sfvrsn=845cb8e9_14.