How to create a mentally healthy work environment

When looking after your employees, mental health is just as important as physical health in the workplace. According to the ABS, nearly three million Australians live with depression and anxiety. Depression not only affects a person’s well-being and relationships, it can have a devastating impact on their career and productivity.

When it comes to stress in the workplace, we need to proactively deal with the issue rather than avoiding it and simply hoping the issue will fix itself. There are ways employers can identify stress related symptoms in employees. Acknowledging the warning signs is usually a good first step. However, implementing strategies and methods around helping to alleviate the suffering can and will have the biggest impact on employee health.

Acknowledging the signs

We are living in a time were society demands more from us – we are working longer and harder than ever before. These unwanted pressures to succeed in the workplace is contributing to employee stress and negative mental well-being. However, employees and employers can be taught to identify the warning signs and act accordingly.

Often, anxiety is a precursor to depression and can be used positively as an early warning sign. When it comes up, implement a strategy where you feel at ease calling a meeting or simply checking in with the person. Its essential to have follow up conversations and try uncover the root of the problem. Follow up conversations can also help to identify changes that can be made to their work environment to help improve the situation.

Are they in the right job?

A lack of fulfilment or a mountainous workload can lead to anxiety and stress in the workplace. Therefore, it is essential that employees are well-aligned to their roles. The easiest way to align employees to roles is through their work values – their values need to match up with the tasks they are given. For example, if an employee hold variety as one of the highest work needs, they will forever be dissatisfied in a role that requires the same tasks to be performed day in and day out. Bare in mind that sometimes a person is perfectly suited to the business but not the role.

Create a mentally healthy environment

Here are eight things you can do to create a mentally healthy workplace environment:

  1. Ask staff to check emails at specific times of the day. Tell them to turn off notifications, and resist checking emails as the arrive in the inbox. Not knowing what may arrive at any given time leads to an anxious state and lowers productivity. Your inbox should not act as a to-do list which takes you away from your current tasks.
  2. Make a top three list instead of a to-do list. A top three list is a list of key tasks to achieve that day. The tasks should reflect and align with the goals of the position, and should be clear and achievable.
  3. Create a ‘no reading emails after hours’ policy. Home time is designated for home, friends and family.
  4. Lack of natural sunlight is having a large impact on employees. Sunlight absorbed by the retia of the eyes produces a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is often referred to as the ‘Happy Chemical’ as it contributes to well-being and happiness. So, keep blinds open and encourage employees to take outdoor breaks.
  5. Designated break time should be sacred and ideally taken outside. Fresh air and exposure to the sun helps rejuvenate the mind. It can be particularly helpful in the winter months when the days are shorter.
  6. Allow for privacy as certain personality types crave alone time. Many workplaces are open plan these days, but if space allows for it, offer a relaxation spot or time out zone for employees to enjoy.
  7. Avoid the sugary treats and offer your employees fresh fruit and or healthy snacks to enjoy throughout the day. A healthy diet not only helps to boost energy levels and inadvertently productivity, it can also help to improve mental health.
  8. Offer tasks that go beyond their daily duties and involve contribution. For example, NAB offers a program to their employees where they can dedicate two days per year to work for a non-for-profit. You might like to offer your help and support to your local community or a chosen charity.

Often drastic change can do more harm than good, so keep things simple. By implementing one, two or all these tips, you will be well on your way to creating a mentally healthy work environment.