As boundaries between home and work life become more and more blurred, Australian SMEs have an “enormous role to play” in their employee’s mental health and wellbeing, according to group HR director at SEEK Kathleen McCudden.
Speaking at a panel event on Wednesday with Qantas’ executive manager of human resources Lisa Burquest and Sportsbet’s head of talent Liz Waldock, the panellists weighed in on what modern day organisations should be doing when it comes to employees’ mental health.
The overarching message shining through the discussion was one of transparency, with each urging businesses to position mental health and wellbeing as something that’s “okay to talk about” for employees in the workplace.
Here are three other ways business owners can make sure their employees are mentally healthy and happy while working.
1. Flexible working hours
Speaking to a crowded room of HR managers and experts, Waldock discussed how the changing nature of work was leading to an increase in concerns about employee’s mental health and wellbeing. In the face of this, she says it’s important to focus on the advantages of flexible work.
“Thinking about technology, the way in which we work, and the ongoing interconnectivity, people feel more connected to work than ever. There’s no off switch. You don’t have downtime,” she said.
“Because of this, it’s essential for organisations to embrace different ways of working. We have various practices to support people who are working [in] ways which better integrate into their daily life and work life.”
This can include letting staff work from home or work irregular part-time hours and allowing them to do things like pick children up from school.
For SEEK, McCudden said to find an example of flexible working hours, look no further than the company’s co-founder.
“For our co-founder, SEEK is in his DNA, so it’s not uncommon to get emails from him at 2.00 in the morning, or on Saturday or Sunday,” she said.
“But he has said to me many times, ‘don’t feel like you have to respond to this now’. He’s very clear around his expectations about that.”
The panellists also rallied behind the idea of business owners and staff being comfortable to “leave loudly”, saying if you’re leaving early for whatever reason, don’t sneak away and conceal it, saying it builds in recognition for staff that leaving early is okay.
2. Build it into the company culture
“When you think about how organisations can support mental health in the workplace, it comes under creating a culture that enables people to feel safe and able to speak out if they have problems,” Waldock said.
“To do that, you need leadership capabilities to connect with employees on a one on one capability. You also need to listen to your team members about what it is that will work for them, and help them set some goals.”
This was echoed by McCudden, who said that company culture sits at the heart of a business’ ability to get on top of things such as employee mental health and wellbeing, but noted the difficulties of “walking the line” between a high achieving environment, and an environment where employees are comfortable to open up about their issues.
McCudden also highlighted the importance of how business owners respond to employees who may be languishing due to stress-related issues, imploring to not give up on them right away.
“What we try and do if someone’s generally a really great performer and they usually embody all the attributes of the company, if they’re having a period where they’re not performing, we don’t give up on them. We don’t put them on a performance improvement plan straight away,” she said.
“What we do is sit down with them and find out what’s going on. We work with them, we coach them, and we provide them with a runway.”
3. Take it slow with new hires
The panellists also discussed how business owners should approach new hires when mental health and wellbeing are top of mind, with Waldock saying it was important for her business to let new hires know about the fast-paced nature of the work so they know it’s the “right match for them”.
“We have a very structured focus when we bring people in, we assess quite significantly around our culture. That’s not just for us, but it’s also for them to understand what it’s like working at Sportsbet,” she says.
“We also know the people who tend to want to work at Sportsbet are quite ambitious and high-achieving, so we have to put the right structures in place to support that.”
However, McCudden believes it’s wise to slow new hires down, saying the ones who want to “hit the ground running” are encouraged by the business to go slow.
“That’s around relationships, consultation, connections with people, and understanding our business. It’s really important the hires park their ideas and know we’re not expecting them to deliver in the first 2-3 months,” she said on Wednesday’s panel.
“There’s a lot of coffee catchups, a lot of getting to know SEEK, and actually going slow means people are actually more successful because they separate themselves from that pressure.”