Good Mental Health is Good for Business – My Model for Managing Mental Health in the Workplace…….Part 4

“Mental Health is the leading cause of sickness absence and long term work incapacity in most developed countries”.

The high economic and personal costs associated with workplace mental illness underscores the advantages associated with providing a mentally healthy workplace. In this post I will be discussing the last 4 points of my © 9 Point Approach for Managing Mental Health in the Workplace.

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6. Prevention of Mental Health Issues

The responsibility for preventing mental health issues is shared jointly by management and staff. Building and maintain a positive working environment is therefore in the interest of all parties. Balancing the underlying need to adhere to organisation structures and formal reporting requirements with the needs of individual staff, can be a difficult task. This can be mitigated by appropriate levels of role clarity, job control, change management and mechanisms that ensure equitable treatment.

– Role clarity

Employees who are not clear about their role can experience disengagement and a decline in performance, and can become frustrated. Role ambiguity is a significant risk factor to mental health and may lead to psychological injury. On the other hand, having role clarity leads to engagement, job satisfaction, commitment and productivity, all of which are good for mental health.

– Balancing job demands with job controls

The risk of mental health problems increases as job stress increases. It can be prevented, by managers and supervisors making sure the demands of a job are adequately matched with the resources needed to do the job well and providing employees with genuine control over their work.

– Change management

Change, if handled poorly, can increase the risk of developing mental health problems. When planning change senior managers should assess the potential risks to mental health and monitor on an ongoing basis. This could include providing employees with access to relevant support e.g. emotional, practical or training.

As far as possible, major changes to duties and responsibilities should be discussed with the employees involved. If the organisation is downsizing or restructuring, openly communicate with employees to reduce employee uncertainty. There should also be strategies for supporting those who will lose their jobs and those who will stay but may feel insecure.

– Create a fair workplace

Unfair treatment at work is linked to increased risk of mental health problems. Employees should be treated fairly by:

  • Holding all employees accountable for their actions in the workplace
  • Maintaining confidentiality of employees’ personal information in all communications
  • Treating people from all cultural backgrounds fairly
  • Adopting non-discriminatory language
  • Asking for employees input into the fairness of policies and procedures
  • Being transparent with policies and procedures
  • Having clear procedures around complaints

6. Prevention of Mental Health Issues

– Recognising when help is needed

One in five people will experience ‘mild to moderate’ mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. If an employee is not mentally well enough to be at work, staying at work may be detrimental to their own health and recovery, as well as possibly impacting negatively on fellow employees. If this is the case, management is to be proactive in recognising that professional/clinical help is the best option, and to facilitate this before the employee and others are affected further.

– Making reasonable workplace adjustment

Employees with mental health conditions can be supported to be productive at work by considering the inherent requirements of the job, individual skills, capability and personal circumstances and making reasonable adjustments to support people to perform the role. In practice, the extent to which workplace adjustments can be made need to be balanced with the broader operational needs of the department.

– Building resilience

Building a resilient work team is an important part of creating a healthy and productive work environment. Resilient teams are based on mutual trust, social norms, participation and social networks. Resilient teams are also more likely to be productive and high performing.

Importantly, resilience can be learned and developed by anyone because it involves learning how to behave, think and act differently. Building resilient teams is about effective leadership, team cohesion, mutual support, and open, honest communication.

8. Rehabilitation and Return to Work

Evidence indicates that mental health claims are increasing. Most of these claims are attributed to work pressure and/or workplace bullying. Employees with a psychological injury do not return to work as quickly as those with a physical injury. Management support and assistance is critical to overcoming barriers to return to work as time away from the workplace can be detrimental to recovery.

If a worker is having problems at work, provide options of who they can talk to. Apart from their supervisor they could draw on others such as human resources, EAP/counsellor service or employee associations.

9. Assess and Evaluate the Plan

The final element of my model is evaluation and assessment. Determining the impact, cost-effectiveness, accountability to stakeholders and potential improvements are important for the ongoing success of your mental health program.

Your evaluation plan should be created before implementation has started. The evaluation plan should include a clearly defined set of processes and outcome measures based on goals and objectives that have been set during the planning process.

Final Comment

Managing mental health in the workplace should not be seen as a chore or an extra task that supervisors and managers need to do. It is an opportunity to improve how we work so that it is beneficial to everyone in the workplace.

If you need assistance to develop or audit you framework for managing mental health in the workplace, or provide training to business leaders, supervisors and employees please get in touch.

About the Author

I am the principal of Cartec Consulting an HR / OD company that assists business to align their people with the business strategy.

Contact me via email on cliff@cartec.com.au or mobile on 0400 088 627