August 26, 2020

A HR Dilemma: Mental health in the workplace

As an employer, there’s a lot you can do to support your employees’ mental health. From an HR perspective, you have a responsibility to take care of your employees, particularly around their mental health. In this article, we look at the simple steps you should be taking and explore why it’s crucial right now – both for your employees and your bottom line.

Why does workplace mental health matter so much?

Good mental health is the glue that binds a workplace together. Employees with good mental health are happier, more productive and more likely to stay in roles. A PwC study found that for every dollar an employer puts into ensuring good mental health, they get back an average return of 230%.

However, there are some employees who feel that their employers can be doing more when it comes to mental health. While 90 per cent agree that good mental health is important for a properly-functioning business, just half believe their workplace is mentally healthy. Seventy-five per cent admit that mental health will impact whether or not they take a job. Perhaps, and most importantly, it’s the second-most decisive factor in determining whether to leave employment and take a job elsewhere. What’s the first? Pay, of course.

What contributes to poor mental health in the workplace?

Many factors can contribute to poor workplace mental health. But the reality is, more often than not, it comes from the top. Poor management practices, lack of communication, creating unnecessary stress and providing a lack of support are all critical contributors to a mentally unhealthy workplace. While every workplace culture is different, it’s incumbent on employers and their HR department to provide staff the support they need and to create the right environment. We’ll show you how to do this in six steps.

HR Tip 1: Work out your mental health priorities recommends once leadership commits to managing mental health in the workplace, begin by identifying all mental health needs. You can do this by meeting with employees both individually and in a group setting. Surveys and informal conversations have their place too. You should also look at all the HR data you have available, such as absentee rates and workers compensation and harassment claims statistics to analyse where any problems lie.

HR Tip 2: Have a written plan in place

In anything HR-related, you should always have the right strategies, policies and procedures in place. While WHS and employment laws cover such things as workplace bullying and harassment, these really should be seen as the base level for how you operate. Complement these with a written mental health plan – one that expresses your priorities, defines what you want to achieve and outlines your focus and attention. Be sure to include what’s acceptable in the workplace and what’s not. The more detail you can add here, the better.

HR Tip 3: Get buy-in from across the organisation

Leadership is the key to promoting mental health in the workplace. Make sure senior staff members are on board as well as the rest of your team. Let people know what you’re trying to achieve and why it matters so much. And, it’s worth training departments in what to look for when it comes to recognising the signs of anxiety, depression and poor mental health in others.

HR Tip 4: Give people the power to speak up

Often people feeling stress or suffering anxiety don’t feel empowered to raise the matter, with stigma often playing a part. It can also be stress caused by managers and colleagues, or a feeling of being unsupported. Keep an open-door policy and encourage teams to raise issues when they see or experience them. Here, an anonymous hotline can give people the courage they need to come forward.

HR Tip 5: Be realistic about work levels

One of the leading causes of a mentally unhealthy workplace is employer expectations. There are some people in leadership positions that expect employees to overwork, leading to burnout. Others often ‘throw them to the wolves’, naturally siding with clients whenever there are issues. Make sure expectations are in line with what employees can realistically achieve. If you expect them to have skills they don’t, train them. If you expect them to bill more, cut their other job requirements so they can focus. And, always approach any conflict with an open mind. You know the customer isn’t always right.

HR Tip 6: Communicate, communicate and communicate again

The best businesses always have one thing in common: open communication. And, there’s never been a more critical time to have open communication than right now. COVID-19 has introduced a whole new level of stress – with reduced turnovers, job losses and redundancies becoming normal. Let employees know how you’re going and what lies ahead. And, if people are working from home, check in on them regularly to find out how they’re going. There’s no excuse for leaving people out of the picture just because they’re out of the office. By keeping up the conversation, you’ll be ensuring that workplace stress doesn’t impact your organisation.

Keep on top of mental health

It’s never been so important. If you require assistance in setting up an HR strategy around mental health or wish to speak with a human resources expert, then reach out to the Catalina Consultants team. We’d love to help.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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