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Managing mental health in the workplace

As an employer or manager, you know your people are essential to the success of your business. Supporting them when they need it is really important.

Mental health in the workplace

Mental illness is largely an unspoken health issue, but it’s very common. With one in six New Zealanders diagnosed with a common mental illness at some time in their lives, your employees are highly likely to be affected - directly or indirectly - by a mental health issue.

Mental illness doesn’t just impact the person. It impacts families, communities and workplaces too.

The World Health Organisation predicts mental illness will be the leading cause of disability and absence in the workplace by 2030 if it’s not proactively addressed.

How it impacts your business

Positive mental health leads to more positive outcomes for employees, and better business results too.

“Worker wellbeing is good for business, and putting wellbeing at the centre of everything you do will grow your business and help attract and retain talent,” says Geoff McDonald, former Global Vice-President HR at Unilever.

“Leaders within organisations need to give the same level of attention and priority to mental health as they do to safety, and invest in training managers and employees on managing mental health.”

Since experiencing a massive panic attack ten years ago, UK-based McDonald has campaigned to put worker wellbeing at the centre of business, and to break the stigma associated with depression and anxiety in the workplace.

What you can do

Geoff McDonald has some tips on how you can promote good mental health in the workplace.

  • Bring it out in the open. Talk about mental illness. Help dispel the myth that mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are weaknesses and, instead, share the scientific evidence that they are illnesses.
  • Encourage senior managers, influential people and key talent to share stories of their experiences with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. (The stories don’t have to be a personal account of suffering from mental ill health, but could be about supporting a loved one or friend who hasn’t been well.) Storytelling is a very powerful means of normalising these illnesses and making it okay to ask for help.
  • Promote campaigns that inspire employees to maintain and enhance their mental health.
  • Encourage exercise and other activities that support mental well-being like yoga, mindfulness and meditation. Share apps like Headspace or Calm that employees can use to maintain their own mental wellbeing.
  • Signpost resources on your intranet where employees can access help with mental health issues like depression or anxiety so they can more easily find the support they need.
  • Create an environment where individuals feel their work is meaningful and humane. “Your organisation’s culture and purpose are core to people’s wellbeing,” McDonald says.

Working well(external link) – Mental Health Foundation

Five ways to wellbeing at work(external link) – Mental Health Foundation

HASANZ Conference 2018

Geoff McDonald is giving a keynote address and masterclass at the conference of the Health and Safety Association of New Zealand (HASANZ) in September in Wellington, where he’ll talk about the emerging role of good mental health in the workplace and how it can be a competitive advantage.

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