At Coates Hire branches across the country last month, one simple but vital question was being asked: “R U OK?” As part of supporting and engaging our workforce around mental health, Coates Hire teams spent R U OK?Day checking in with colleagues. Morning tea was served; barbeques were fired up; some branches received personalised care packages - there was even a choreographed dance at our Muswellbrook branch. 
 
Much fun was had, but more importantly these events served a reminder that mental health matters, and it's really important to check in on the wellbeing of staff from time to time. 
 
Why does mental health matter?
 
Mental health is a growing area of focus and interest for many businesses today. Research tells us that employees experiencing mental health difficulties are more likely to be absent from work – one in five Australians take time off work each year due to stress, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. 
 
We also know that people suffering from severe depression are less productive when they are at work – beyondblue estimates that workplace depression costs Australia $12.6Bn each year, with the majority of costs relating to productivity and job turnover
 
As employers we have a duty to care for the wellbeing of our workforce. In addition to meeting our obligation, supporting the mental wellbeing of our workforce can also have a profoundly positive affect on our people, businesses and our economy. Mentally healthy workplaces improve productivity and business performance; increase workforce participation; reduce absenteeism; and improve organisational culture
 
Here are four ways we can positively shape mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
 
1. Share the workload
 
Between 2010 and 2015, 31% of mental health condition workers’ compensation claims were attributed to work pressure. Being too busy at work, especially for long periods of time, can be incredibly stressful. Not being busy enough can be equally taxing – affecting job satisfaction and self-worth, and leaving people feeling anxious about their job security. 
 
For optimal mental health and wellbeing at work, job design and task allocation must people to maintain appropriate levels of busyness. Staff reviews provide good opportunities to connect with staff, and gauge how they are feeling and performing. Reviews also allow staff to raise concerns around workload and other workplace issues in a confidential and neutral environment. 
 
Employers should also focus on setting reasonable and achievable deadlines and providing training and guidance around time management. Countless software is available to support employees and businesses in achieving these goals.
 
2. Improve organisational culture
 
Organisational culture – described by Forbes as “the backbone of a happy workforce” – is influenced by many factors that are unique to each business. This can include the type of organisation; the nature of the work; leadership style; company values; systems and processes; behaviours; demographics; diversity and more.
 
Whilst healthy workplace culture and positive work relationships can encourage productivity and enhance wellbeing, poor organisational performance in these areas can be toxic to mental health and general wellbeing. 
 
To improve organisational culture and mental health in your workplace: 
1.         Prioritise employee health and wellness 
2.         Promote care and respect, demonstrated at all levels of an organisation. 
3.         Foster a culture of inclusivity
4.         Maintain open and honest communication
5.         Encourage staff feedback (without repercussions).
 
3. Get active
 
Encouraging staff to get physical during the day can have a significantly positive effect on workplace productivity and general wellbeing. 
 
Physical activity enhances our mood – it’s a fact. By stimulating the release of endorphins (or “happy hormones”), exercise reduces stress and anxiety and improves our resilience to face challenges. Physical activity also reduces the production of brain chemicals that exacerbate depression.  
 
4. Engage the workforce
 
Human resources
 
The quality and delivery of employee support services has a direct impact on the wellbeing of your workforce. From change management and staff feedback, through to performance reviews and planning career progression, employee support services must be adequate, appropriate and accessible to all staff. 
 
Employee assistance programs (EAP)
 
EAPs offer confidential support to help employees manage work-life stresses. These programs can be an effective tool for addressing issues that may otherwise impact health and wellness at work – from family and financial problems through to drug use and legal issues. Research has shown a reduction in anxiety and depression for employees who use EAPs.
 
A sound investment
 
Creating mentally healthy workplaces is good for people and good for business too. According to workplace mental health advocate Heads Up, for every dollar invested in creating a mentally healthy workplace businesses achieve (on average) a $2.30 return on investment.
 
 

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