Breaking the taboo over mental health in the workplace is a focus for Scott Cameron, Regional CEO for Australia and New Zealand of the globe’s leading share registry company Computershare. Research shows there is a business case for prioritising the happiness and emotional wellbeing of staff by creating a mentally healthy workplace — mental illness is estimated to cost Australian businesses $10.9 billion every year, making it a huge issue for employees and the community as well. One in five Australians experience a mental health condition every year, and it’s estimated that 45% of people will have one in their lifetime.
Given the large workforces of companies like Computershare, this inevitably means that at least some of the team are suffering from poor mental health.
“I don’t think we have a bigger or smaller issue than the general community, but applying those statistics across a workforce of two thousand people in Australia, you have to think that at some point in time some of your workforce are encountering an issue, either directly or with a family member.” says Cameron.
“In some cases people who are dealing with mental health conditions may need to spend time out of the office, whether that’s on sick leave or other sources of leave. This can be disruptive not only to that individual, but the team working with them.
“Even if they are physically in the office, they might be mentally checked out. And quite often, if people don’t understand what their colleagues or their staff members are going through, then they might put it down to something else. This could cause friction in the team environment when it is actually quite explainable.”
Cameron points out that not only is doing something about mental health in the workplace the right thing from a care perspective, but there are benefits to the business as well.
A report from beyondblue’s Heads Up Initiative backs him up — it shows that creating a mentally healthy workplace can be incredibly lucrative, generating $2.30 in benefits for every dollar spent. These gains come largely from increasing productivity, reductions in absenteeism and workers compensation, and the ROI can be higher when implementing different actions together.
Computershare itself now employs several strategies to create a mentally healthy workplace for its employees — conversations and meetings about mental health, flexible work arrangements, yoga and meditation sessions, employee counseling and on-site “mental health champions”.
It all started for Computershare about nine months ago, ………. when Cameron went to a beyondblue breakfast and then started talking to former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett. Kennett is chairman of beyondblue, and held a session for Computershare employees about mental health in the workplace.
“It was one of the best received employee engagement sessions we have ever had. The feedback was really positive, and people were really proud that we would be talking about this,” says Cameron.
Since then, Computershare has continued the conversation about mental health in the workplace, trying to bust the taboo. The more conversation around mental health, says Cameron, the more it will be accepted and normalised.
“If you had someone with physical ailment, they would put their hand up and say they need time off work or to be supported with what they are dealing with,” says Cameron.
“I think in one sense it is about everyone accepting that mental illness is prevalent. People don’t choose it, it chooses them. [It’s about] treating it no differently and showing the same support and empathy.”
A side effect of this conversation is that employees are more attuned to themselves and each other. Co-workers and managers can watch out for and support one another, and there is less misunderstanding and friction.
“The more you understand your people, where they are at both at work and personally, you will be able to see those early warning signs,” says Cameron.
“We are not psychologists, but there is basic human empathy and ways you can support people. That’s what it’s all about, supporting people.”
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