R U OK? CHECKING IN WITH YOUR EMPLOYEES ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
Thursday 8 September 2022 is R U OK? day, an important initiative started in 2009 that draws attention to mental health in the workplace and community. According to the Black Dog Institute, an estimated 1 in 6 people of working age will be suffering from mental illness at any point in time. Mental health issues vary in type and severity and include anxiety and depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorder. The cost of mental illness to the individual and their close family and friends can be significant. The impact on business can’t be ignored either: Australian workplaces lose $10.9 billion each year due to employee absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.
Today, there is increased awareness around mental health, but the stigma still persists. Many individuals are ashamed of their mental health struggles and apprehensive about sharing their stories. Yet, with support and, when needed, appropriate treatment they can learn to manage their challenges. In a workplace setting, three little words are all it takes to raise the subject of mental health.
R U OK? Checking in with your employees about mental health is important. Not just on 8 September but every day. Here are some ways to promote conversation about mental health in the workplace.
You’re more likely to notice when something is amiss with an employee if you know them. And they may be more inclined to confide in you, too. So, start building those relationships. You could ask employees about their weekend/their evening/their holidays/their journey into work and go from there.
Learn to read the signs around mental illness. Listen to what your employees are saying, look at what they are doing, consider their current circumstances. This R U OK? guide has some useful pointers.
Before you ask R U OK?, it’s important that you’re in the right headspace. Are you ready to support an employee who opens up about potential mental illness? If not, it might be worth raising your concerns about an employee with a trusted co-worker.
Talk in private
If you feel an employee is struggling (and you are in an OK place yourself), invite them to talk. Ideally, your conversation should take place in a quiet, private space where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
Listen – don’t judge!
Encourage your employee to talk, but don’t force the conversation if they’re not ready. Listening in a non-judgemental way helps show empathy and should, hopefully, encourage trust.
Connect them to support
Mental health is a complex area. Rather than trying to fix your employee’s issues yourself, offer to help connect them to appropriate support. Here are some options to consider:
- Some workplaces have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) where employees have access to free consultations.
- GPs can refer individuals to psychologists and other specialists. GPs can also draw up a mental health treatment plan. These plans currently provide individuals with Medicare rebates on up to 20 psychological appointments per year.
- Helplines, such as Beyond Blue, Lifeline and MensLine Australia, offer confidential support 24/7. For contact numbers, scroll down to the end of this blog.
Check back in
Follow up with your employee a couple of weeks after your private chat – or sooner if you feel it’s necessary. Checking in provides you with the opportunity to ask how they are and whether they are managing. Be aware that they may not have taken any specific action. These things can take time. Reassure them you are there to help when they are ready.
Employers can help support employees’ mental health by being aware of the struggles individuals may be facing, listening to them and connecting them to appropriate resources. Start building a mentally healthy workplace today!
Useful resources and contact numbers
Learn the Signs It’s Time to Ask R U OK? from suicide prevention charity R U OK?
Workplace Mental Health Toolkit produced by the Black Dog Institute.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78
All these helplines operate 24/7.
The Optimal Recruitment Team are passionate advocates of mental health awareness. You can reach us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 02 8416 4181.