Who is responsible for workplace mental health at your office?

  • Is it the CEO or maybe the Team Leader?
  • Are you equipped to recognise the signs if someone on your team is displaying signs of burn out?
  • Do you take a positive lead or are you irritated when team members are not firing on all cylinders? It’s a tricky one!
  • Who asks R U OK?

Employment contracts stipulate the need to create a safe working space. What is that like in reality? Sure, vision statements are inspiring but it’s safe to say not all workplaces create a mentally healthy environment for employees to thrive. Judging by Safe Work Australia’s research which indicates $543 million is paid to workers for work-related mental health claims (Safe Work Australia, 2018). $543 million for work-related mental health claims. Wowsers.

My feeling is whether it is in the employment contract or not, we are all part of a collective and all have a role to play in creating space for people to reach out regardless of position at work. A duty of care. No man or woman is an island and a simple “Are you OK?” and starting a conversation with someone you are concerned about can make a world of difference.

My story

I recently had the opportunity to share at a Workplace Mental Health Workshop for 15 managers in Brisbane. I shared with this group of managers about how depression had a direct impact on my marketing career in 2013. I put my marketing career and life on hold for 3 years. Over 3 years I focused on embracing my physical, mental and emotional health and in 2016 I was back on track. I started to study again, travel again, work in marketing again, write again…and basically live again. It felt like a rebirth and 14 months ago I started teaching yoga which I love so much. I am hugely passionate about breaking the stigma that comes with workplace stress and mental illness.

I shared with the group that previously when I was stressed I would not voice this. I was afraid I would be viewed as weak and I was ashamed. I didn’t want any responsibilities taken away from me after I had studied for 5 years and worked hard for my career.

I am different as a 36 year old now and I am more self-aware than 10 years ago, I can pinpoint my feelings and articulate what kind of support I need without fear. Here I am – take it or leave it. However, this is something to be mindful of that some staff members may feel uncomfortable and too embarrassed to say they are feeling stressed, anxious or sad and concerned responsibilities may be taken away.

How do you counter shame around mental illness? Remove the stigma of not feeling mentally healthy and create a space for people to share honestly about how they feel about work and what is happening outside of work. You don’t have to be a therapist or a counsellor to create this space or go into territory you feel uncomfortable with, it’s more about managing people and creating a respectful environment. As co-workers how they are…and actually listen.

EI + EL = emotional intelligence + emotional leadership

How emotionally intelligent are you? There is a balance point and if someone is unwell and unfit to complete their duties at work, they need to seek the required medical support. However, this can still be handled with much respect and care. Rather than a “Get the hell out of here, you’re annoying me” mentality I have witnessed.

I want to advocate for other people in the same boat as me. I want to drive change to highlight the need to create mentally healthy workplaces for people to thrive. This is not about creating a cotton wool working culture where there is a lack of accountability about performance.

This is about People and Culture first…which in turn drives performance.

What can you do?

  • You can drive change in your workplace and lead the way with mentally healthy conversations. Nothing crazy, simply checking in with your workmates and friends and asking “Are you OK?” and holding space for him/her to talk. And then direct him/her to resources to support them if needed.
  • Download the Workplace Mental Health Toolkit to see how to create a workplace and culture you want to spend time in.
  • Start an R U OK? conversation. Use these four steps:

1. Ask R U OK?

2. Listen

3. Encourage action

4. Check in

Wishing you good habits to hold you in good stead mentally and emotionally! And of course, I highly recommend you land on your mat! Practicing yoga has held me and supported me in my healing.

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