Experts in the Media

Graeme Cowan – Inside Small Business

Mental Health and Resilience Expert, Co-Founder of WeCARE365, and Founding Board Director of R U OK?

Mental health myths prevail despite new mental safety workplace laws

Mental and psychological safety at work is now just as important as physical health due to new work health safety laws that were introduced in most states across Australia on 1 April.

All employers will now be responsible for measuring wellbeing risks including stress, bullying, harassment, and work-related violence that can impact the mental health and well-being of employees.

At mental health manager training programme WeCARE365, we recently surveyed 461 managers and they rated the average mood of their organisations at 59/100. Disturbingly, only eight per cent of those surveyed rated their organisation ‘very good’ at monitoring and costing poor mental health (absenteeism and employee turnover etc). This is about to become a much bigger problem if organisations aren’t doing it right.

These five mental health myths prevail in many workplaces and need to be challenged and addressed if workplaces are going to be mentally safe spaces abiding by laws.

  1. Yoga, meditation lessons and fruit bowls are the solution
    The best way to improve employees’ mental health is to give them good managers, according to recent academic studies. When we recently shared the research on LinkedIn it went viral with over 2.7 million views likes and comments. Approximately 95 per cent of people agreed with the post. Whilst yoga and fruit bowls can be helpful, the biggest bang for the buck is showing managers how to lead mentally healthy teams. The good news is that most managers want to create mentally healthy teams, but 44 per cent don’t know how to do this.
  2. We have reduced stigma
    One of the positive things about the last three years is how much more mental health in the workplace was talked about. Stigma is still shown to be a huge barrier to talking openly. Recent research by McKinsey showed that whilst 80 per cent of employees believed that reducing stigma was very important, only 17 per cent believed it was happening in their workplace. Just 12 per cent of Australian managers in our study believe they have virtually eliminated stigma. Reducing stigma comes when leaders and employees feel safe to share their mental ill health stories.
  3. We are too busy to worry about mental health
    Microsoft’s Work Index recently revealed that 66 per cent of leaders and 62 per cent of employees are feeling burnt out. We all have a role to play in contributing to a caring and supportive team environment. Gallup research shows that the more people who strongly agree with the assertion ‘my supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person’, the higher the productivity and profit of an organisation. In The Caring CEO podcast, I have now interviewed 45 CEOs who champion a culture of care and high performance. They explain how they are not mutually exclusive – one is critical to the other.
  4. Working in an office is best for our mental health
    A recent poll of 27,684 people on LinkedIn showed that 94 per cent agreed that ‘CEOs should stop complaining and accept the reality that remote work is here to stay’. There are benefits in being around our colleagues because this can increase our connection, belonging and collaboration. There are also benefits in working remotely, it is not a one size fits all. Whereas in 2022 a company would provide guidelines on where to work and the individual would decide how that applied to them – most evidence supports the best option now is when a team decides where and how each member works.
  5. The crisis is over
    The stress caused by uncertainty and the rate of change will likely accelerate given the current financial climate. Many mental illnesses will continue to affect people after the pandemic because of disruptive technologies like ChatGPT and AI. Senior leaders must measure the root causes of burnout proactively and address issues before little problems become big ones. People at Work is a free employee survey made available by the government that allows you to do this.

Employers would be wise to assess how mentally healthy their workplaces are and start to address these mental health myths with new policies and practices.