Mental health and wellness is a growing concern for most organisations. Regardless of the industry you are operating in, this is a matter that weighs heavily on the culture of your business.
A recent edition of AdNews magazine (or for this issue, ‘Sadnews’), highlighted the importance of mental health in the workplace focusing on depression and anxiety. The industry-specific facts are sobering. Citing a study by industry charity Unltd, AdNews reported that people within the media, advertising and creative industry show greater signs of mental illness compared to the national average with a total of 56% of the study’s respondents showing mild to severe symptoms of depression compared to the national average of 36%. The report also found that within the industry, creatives suffer a higher rate of mental health symptoms: 61% showed signs of depression compared to 53% in marketing and 46% in media.
More broadly, it’s estimated between 20-30% of the Australian workforce will suffer a serious mental health problem at some point, costing more than $12 billion per annum.
Many organisations now provide free telephone counselling services to staff where anything discussed remains confidential.
But beyond that, the challenge for many small to medium sized businesses lies in offering health and wellbeing programs while also running a productive business. The reality is, we can’t afford not to. So how can you make a real difference to the mental health and wellbeing of the people within your organisation?
On a day-to-day level, there are small ways to make a difference to health and wellbeing in a high-pressure environment. Here are some simple changes we have found make a significant difference to team happiness:
• Weekly Mediation session. Once a week we book out a meeting room, turn off the lights, put an oil burner on and play a guided mediation for about 15 minutes. The room is packed and totally silent for 15 minutes. Everyone feels less stressed as they float out of the room and after a few of these sessions, our team can apply the practice themselves.
• Weekly ‘Walking Club’. We simply bring our sneakers and take a break by walking around the nearby Albert Park Lake at lunch time. It’s a great way to decompress and chat to workmates outside the office.
• Bake It or Fake It. We take it in turns to bring in treats for our monthly Monday morning meeting. This makes the Monday-itis a little easier to deal with. The fun part is guessing who actually baked or who faked it.
• Things about me you might not know. We run a monthly stand up with staff and get people to share something about themselves people might not know. This gives us a more holistic understanding of individuals and serves to uncover skill sets and side hustles we may not have known about. For example, one of our graphic designers is a fully qualified nutritionist and skateboard artist, while another was on MasterChef years ago! Knowing more about what makes the people we work with tick gives us a better understanding of what motives and drives them and we can support and encourage passions that aren’t directly related to the workplace.
• Workhours/location flexibility. In our business, certain roles are required to have ‘full time’ availability and office presence. That said, we employ grown-ups who are capable of managing their time without being expected to clock on and off. Many choose to work from home one day per week or adjust hours to meet personal requirements such as traffic, childcare or school pick-ups. As long as the work commitments are met, this makes everyone’s life happier, easier and more productive. With mobile phone access 24/7 it is important to give and take both ways and set boundaries. Presenteeism is not productivity.
• Social events. Not everyone loves the ideas of compulsory fun events but for those that do we have a small social committee that arranges monthly events to get together as a team outside of the daily grind. Be it mini golf, wine and cheese nights, Golf days, Drag Queen Bingo, group lunches, etc. This is an opportunity for people to relate to one-another in a relaxing environment.
• Office environment. We ran a staff survey and asked everyone two questions – what do you like about working at Spinach, and what would you change? It was an exercise that resulted in some positive changes such as the layout of the office with more breakaway areas for quiet working, more social areas for lunch and desk ‘pods’ where departments could work physically closer together to cross-pollinate ideas. It also resulted in replacing the biscuit barrel with fresh fruit and a more varied social calendar as well as monthly coffee check-in catch ups with staff and their direct reports to compliment the review process already in place.
The benefits to your business from adopting approaches like these are staff retention and productivity but of course, none of these things will address serious mental health issues. RU OK? CEO Brendan Maher says:
“As employers or staff, we can all create a culture where people feel confident asking and answering the simple yet important question: ‘Are you ok?’. These conversations can make a real difference to staff going through a tough time.”
Mental health organisation Batyr’s program manager Josh Wiseman adds that it is important for businesses to have champions at every level to help create a, “safe, open and supportive culture around mental health and wellbeing”.
Mental health needs attention in any sized business. Practicing self-care and encouraging colleagues to the do same, even in small ways, can make a big difference.