Tips for creating a mentally healthy workplace

Thu 5 September 2019

Kettle pours into a cup. Caption says, 'You cannot drink from an empty cup'.

Image source: Black Dog Institute. 

One-in-five Australians experience a mental health condition in a given year and almost one-in-two of us will experience a mental health condition at some point in our lifetime. It’s important to remember that mental health conditions can be episodic or longstanding. (Source: ABS)

As we approach R U OK? Day, a national day of action to support people who may be struggling with life’s ups and downs, it’s timely to consider some of the ways we can contribute to work environments to make them mentally healthy, inclusive and psychologically safe.

The R U OK? campaign does a great job of empowering individuals to meaningfully connect with those around them. By supporting people to have confident conversations at work, this campaign reminds us that we can make a real difference in the lives of colleagues who may be going through a tough time.

And, while it’s important to recognise how we can care for each other, organisation-wide initiatives that encourage individuals to care for themselves are also critical to building a mentally healthy culture.

Here, we reflect on five tips for creating a mentally healthy workplace, as articulated at our 10th annual national conference by guest speaker Marian Spencer of the Black Dog Institute.

1. Encourage mental health awareness.

“People become overworked and overwhelmed without noticing. We want people to understand their current coping strategies, so they can understand when they're becoming stressed.”

2. Help people understand the benefits of self-care.

“When you're on the aeroplane and the emergency announcement comes over about the oxygen masks, you're always told to put your own mask on first before you look after anyone else. That's how simple this is. It's about encouraging people to look after themselves so they can continue to be effective.”

3. Encourage people to take responsibility for their own self-care.

“Often when we get busy, the first things we give up are the things we do for ourselves. Sometimes we see it as indulgent to have a small sleep or read a book for a while when we have a deadline around the corner, but I think it's really important. A bit like turning your computer on and off again when it's going really slowly. Sometimes we just need to reset.”

4. Design jobs to have the right balance of control and demand.

“Stress is not a mental illness, but a natural part of life. We need it. If we have no stress, no motivation, we will not be productive and not get a lot done.

“There’s a sweet spot in the middle, which is the optimal level of stress. Design jobs for people that enable them to reach their optimal performance – the right level of stress. If that stress becomes severe or goes on for too long, that’s when people can potentially become anxious or start to struggle with mental health.”

5. Help people incorporate self-care activities into their everyday work.

“When you habitually take time for yourself, it’s a great resilience builder and you’ll have more energy to meet the demands of life and bring balance.”

Empower your team to practice self-care with the Black Dog Institute’s self-care planning template.

R U OK? resources

R U OK? Day is coming up next Thursday 12 September. For ideas on how you can raise awareness about mental health in your workplace, take a look at these R U OK? Day packs and resources

Support your team to navigate confident conversations every day with R U OK?’s resources and practical guidance for the workplace.

Key hashtags: #RUOK #RUOKDay #TrustTheSigns 

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