As our awareness of mental health evolves, the stoic approach of pushing through without addressing mental health challenges is being phased out.
Younger people, Smiling Mind’s research has found, are generally much more open to talking about their mental health. They want to find ways to proactively manage it, and there’s a growing expectation that their workplace will offer support and understanding.
Speaking on a recent SmartCompany webinar hosted by MYOB Chief Employee Experience Officer Helen Lea, an expert panel shared how business owners can take the lead in prioritising mental health as we enter this next stage of post-pandemic life.
Paris Thomson, the founder and Creative Director of small business and creative production studio SIRAP, joined CEO of Smiling Mind Dr Addie Wootten and Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson to discuss ways to manage mental health in and out of the workplace.
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Pause, reflect, reconnect
The pandemic has taken its toll on Australians. Smiling Mind’s State of Mind 2021 Report reveals four in five Aussies have experienced stress, anxiety or depression in 2021. Meanwhile, 35% are still struggling with the impacts of the pandemic on their mental health.
With so much uncertainty and loss of control, “it’s little wonder we’re seeing big numbers of people pointing to their emotional wellness as being a personal challenge and feeling they’re not their best selves in navigating the business through these choppy times,” Billson says.
“Like an elite athlete, your health — your emotional health — does impact on your performance and that does impact on how the business is going and your capacity to navigate these uncertain times.”
He notes that even though many businesses are returning to a new normal with lockdowns ending and restrictions easing, the impacts of the pandemic will be long lasting. Billson encourages business owners to pause, reflect and reconnect, quoting comedian Lily Tomlin, who said, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
“Speaking up and surfacing issues sooner, and reaching out to trusted advisors and extended networks for guidance and support, can make all the difference.
“Particularly if you’re a self-employed, home-based business, you can feel very lonely and some of these challenges can almost be catastrophised in your own mind because you’ve got no one else to check in with. So, those networks are good to nourish your emotional wellbeing — they’re also great for ‘aha’ moments.”
Check in with yourself
As we come out of lockdown and cautiously start to reopen, Dr Wootten says the best thing we can do for our mental health is to build our awareness of how we’re travelling.
“We often charge headfirst into things, and we don’t give ourselves time to check in and to pay attention to how we’re going,” she says. “And often that means that we don’t notice things until signs and symptoms are really a problem.
“So, you might not notice that you’re feeling really anxious or stressed until you’re not sleeping at night, or you’re having those blow-out moments with either your family or your business partners.”
It’s only human to feel stressed and anxious sometimes, she adds, but these emotions are telling us something and we should stop and listen to what that is.
“It’s that openness to tune into: Why am I feeling this way? What can I do about this? How do I support and nourish myself?” she says. “And if it is a really difficult situation that you can’t control, what can you control in your life that will help you navigate that challenge?”
Help your employees help themselves
Creating a safe place for people to talk about their feelings is a vital part of SIRAP’s workplace philosophy. From regular check-ins and “balance days” once a quarter, to encouraging people to take time out when they need it, it’s about continuing the conversation, Thomson says.
After all, small business owners have an important role to play in supporting the mental health of their employees. For this reason, new team members are given a link to the Smiling Mind app during induction, along with the other tools and programs they need to do their jobs.
“I’m a big believer and supporter of Smiling Mind from a personal level but also with the Small Business Program, supported by MYOB, as well,” Thomson says. “That’s something I’ve really looked to integrate with our team not only across the last 18 months but also more recently.
“Small things like that can often seem overwhelming for a lot of small business owners. But there are an incredible amount of tools out there that you can look to implement to make wellbeing and mental health — and that conversation — just a part of the norm of building a really strong and thriving culture.”
This article is brought to you by the MYOB and Smiling Mind Small Business Program. With mindfulness meditations for navigating stress, building resilience and finding balance, it’s here to help business owners thrive. So, let’s make mental health everyone’s business. Try the free Small Business Program under the ‘At Work’ section in the Smiling Mind app today.