Businesses looking for productive, happy and engaged employees need to be considering mental wellbeing support as a necessity rather than a choice.
That’s the message from Vinomofo’s head of culture Michael Ellis, who is urging businesses across the country to put their best foot forward for World Mental Health Day today by stepping up efforts to support the wellbeing of workers.
“It’s something that every employer needs to take some responsibility for,” Ellis tells SmartCompany.
“Its okay not to be okay. What’s not okay is that you just don’t talk about it and it gets swept under the carpet.”
One in five Australians aged between 16-85 experience mental illness each year, so it’s not surprising that workers are increasingly expecting employers to maintain workplaces that support mental wellbeing.
A recent YouGov Galaxy poll of 1,001 full and part-time working Australians conducted for Employment Hero revealed 59% of employees are prepared to leave a role if their employers disregard employee wellbeing.
As Ellis explains, taking steps to support workers isn’t just an optional notch on a corporate social responsibility belt.
“It’s absolutely essential and non-negotiable if we’re not providing that sort of support [then] how can we expect happy workers,” he explains.
But SMEs often don’t have the same multi-million dollar budgets as large firms to hire wellbeing consultants or devote entire teams to developing mental health programs.
So what can small businesses do to ensure they’re providing a supportive environment for employees within realistic resource constraints?
Normalising difficult discussions
At Vinomofo, the biggest thing smaller firms can do costs hardly anything at all: normalising discussion about mental health in the workplace.
On average, any company with 20 employees will have five that suffer from mental health issues every year, so ensuring that discussion is easy is imperative, Ellis says.
“We’re not experts in dealing with mental health issues, but there are those who are, so we try to normalise that discussion [and help] people reach out,” he explains.
Vinomofo uses mental health support network Mindstar to assist employees and offers workers mental health days where they can either take time off or work from home.
Free counselling is available to employees that need it, but Ellis says having a culture that promotes discussion about mental health is ultimately the least resource intensive, but most effective measure businesses can take.
Change starts at the top
Neil Barwise, people and culture manager at Maple Event Group, echoes the view a positive culture is the first and most important step in fostering mental wellbeing.
Maple Events Group runs corporate and private events and is ranked seventh on Great Place to Work’s 2018 list for companies with under 100 employees.
Barwise tells SmartCompany even the little things can have a big impact.
“We do things like bringing in health specialists to talk through our health, what we’re eating, drinking and how much sleep we get,” he says.
Employees at Maple are encouraged to talk about mental health, with the agenda at morning meetings being set to talk about any personal problems before work issues.
“We’ve all got personal lives going on and if people can’t bring their whole self to work they’re not going to be happy,” Barwise explains.
Barwise believes changing an organisations approach to mental health starts from the top, and that leaders need to get on board first.
After that, trying to bridge the gap between personal and professional lives in a positive way can be difficult, but Barwise says it’s ultimately important to encourage people to share if they feel comfortable.
“You’ve just got to let people be 100% who they are no matter what’s going on in their lives,” he says.
Ask: How are you?
At IT company Insentra, ranked second on the Best Places to Work’s 2018 list for businesses with under 100 employees, mental wellbeing starts with a single question, at every meeting and within most company interactions, internal and external.
“We ask: ‘How are you?’” Sussane King, Isentra’s marketing and talent acquisition executive, tells SmartCompany.
While it might seem like a normal part of everyday interaction, Isentra has worked to make the question an important part of company discourse.
Employees are asked to rate themselves from one to 10 on how they feel professionally and personally. Anyone who says they feel less than a seven is encouraged to seek support.
“We had an all-hands meeting a little while back and our chief executive was saying, how is everyone? And one of the guys who had dialled in said he was a two,” King explains.
“Our chief executive stopped the meeting and had a conversation with him.”
King says the basis for best practice mental health support isn’t expensive programs or extensive HR initiatives but instead passing through what is often the largest barrier to people seeking help: difficulty in talking about the problem.
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