Make every work day an R U OK Day

Is your workplace mentally healthy? Would you or a colleague feel comfortable talking to your employer about depression or anxiety?

If you answered yes, that’s great! You’re likely to be more productive at work and your employer will save thousands of dollars in leave expenses and compensation claims.

If you answered no, you’re not alone. Research by beyondblue found 48 per cent of Australians didn’t believe their workplace was mentally healthy. A mentally healthy workplace protects and promotes good mental health. It also gives employees the tools to speak up if they’re felling mentally unwell and seek help.

You can feel mentally ill in many ways. You might feel stressed or “down”. You might have diagnosed depression or anxiety. You might be grieving the loss of a loved one.

Whatever you’re feeling, if you don’t feel like your usual self, it’s in your employer’s best interest to give you the support you need.

Why? Because people who work in mentally unhealthy workplaces are more likely to take days off work because of mental illness (one in two will), suffer from presenteeism (where you’re present but not productive) and make compensation claims.

Worse of all, they’re less likely to seek treatment. It’s estimated that untreated mental illness is costing Australian workplaces $10.9 billion a year. That’s a lot of money! Money better spent growing our economy.  So, what can we do about it? If you’re an employer, it’s time to take mental health seriously. Having a policy or employee assistance program (EAP) isn’t enough. You’ve got to do more.

How long since you educated your team about mental health, celebrated R U OK Day or actively promoted your EAP? By making your workplace mentally healthy you’ll not only increase productivity & decrease risk, you might save a life… literally.

If you’re an employee, be bold, be brave. Why not advocate for good mental health at work? Get your employer’s permission to hold a Lunch ‘N’ Learn (and make sure they attend!), ask your colleagues how they’re feeling (in a real way), and teach your boss about the benefits of a mentally healthy workplace.

It may be hard to speak up at first, but the silent majority are with you! Over 90 per cent of Aussie employees believe that good mental health at work is important. They also think that Aussie employers should help people suffering from depression or anxiety.

Pretty soon offering a mentally healthy workplace will become a competitive advantage for employers. We’ll be asking whether our prospective employer is trained in mental health management, as well as workplace safety.

In fact, some employees, like health and welfare workers, are more at risk of suffering a work-related mental health injury. This might have something to do with increasing pressure… Workplace pressure is to blame for one in five workers compensation claims.

As a community we need to rally against this. Overwork is not in anyone’s best interest. The employer suffers when people ‘burn out’ and take unplanned leave or quit. The employee suffers from poor health (mental and physical) and may even lose their job security and income over the long term.

Work should enrich our mental health, not diminish it. I hope that by reading this column you’ve been inspired to do one thing to improve your mental health at work. Because after all, shouldn’t R U OK Day be every day at work?

Nieves Murray is a company director & executive leader