19 September 2022
October is Mental Health Month. This important focus reminds employers to highlight mental wellbeing with their people and let them know they’re here to offer support.
We sat down with mental health experts SuperFriend to discuss tips for helping employees practice good mental health and wellbeing, and encourage help-seeking behaviours when needed.
Employers can play an important role in employees’ mental health
Promoting good mental health is good for business too. SuperFriend, a workplace mental health non-profit recommends understanding the many ways to support the positive mental health of all employees. By successfully implementing these strategies, an organisation can succeed.
They believe that maintaining a human-centred focus on employee mental health and wellbeing for the long term is key and that workplace support is becoming increasingly important.
SuperFriend Impact Manager Renada Lee adds, ‘Employers are playing a more important role in the mental health of their people than ever before, with leaders stepping up to the plate.’
Rose Kerlin, Group Executive at AustralianSuper, says in many ways the last few years of working from home helped to remove the stigma around mental health in the workplace.
‘When you’re in the office you’re less likely to talk about any difficult moments with the children or struggles in your personal life. But when you’re invited into each other’s homes every day the dynamic changes.’
‘It’s now expected that people have good and bad days, good and bad moments in our day or in meetings. People have become used to having those conversations in the workplace which has broken a barrier of expectations both ways.’
2 key signs your employees may need some extra support
‘The workplace (virtual or otherwise) provides a crucial environment for employers to observe changes in daily behaviour, which could signal someone might need extra support. This can look different for everyone, so knowing how people behave on a good day is vital to being able to detect if something’s changed,’ says Carly.
It’s also important to be aware of some common signs of declining mental health.
1. Changes in their language and interactions
- Displaying a lack of interest in things they would normally enjoy
- Withdrawing from those around them
- Struggling to perform at their usual work standard
- Showing signs of suicide ideation. This may include talking about feeling hopeless or seeing their activities or life as pointless (generally less common in a work environment)
2. Changes in their physical behaviour
- Low in energy, tired and fatigued
- Mentioning they’re having trouble sleeping or experiencing insomnia
- Struggling to concentrate on a task, remember things or make decisions
- Experiencing some physical pains such as headaches, or
- Losing their appetite
What you can do if you’ve noticed an employee might need help
If you notice signs someone might need some support, there are actions you can take:
- Communicate you’ve seen these changes. This can create a safe way to prompt a chat about how someone is travelling
- Follow SuperFriend’s Art of Checking In guide, which can help you to navigate the ‘checking in’ process.
If you have serious concerns about someone’s immediate safety – please call 000 straight away.
Taking a leadership position
Employers are playing a more important role in the mental health of their people than ever before, with leaders stepping up to the plate.
Rose says workplaces can often be the first to identify something's ‘off’. So reaching out and having that conversation with employees is very important. ‘From a leadership point of view, it’s important to show it’s okay to be vulnerable and admit to your colleagues if you’re not doing so well… because it can help other people enter into a conversation about how they're feeling,’ says Rose.
‘You need to make sure you have the time and space to listen because people won't open up if you're not keen to hear their answer. If you're concerned about someone, you need to pick the time and you need to have the capacity to listen and to respond appropriately.’
‘You need to make sure you’re able to connect the person with the right support if they need it. Sometimes all people want is someone to listen to them and hear what they have to say.’
Mental health in retirement
The Retirement Confidence Index, an annual study by AustralianSuper and Monash University examines how people think and feel about finishing their working life. Started in 2017, the study has shown that physical and mental health are key factors contributing to how confident people feel about their retirement.
Behavioural economist at AustralianSuper, Dr Eraj Ghafoori, says it’s a common belief that if you don’t have enough money by retirement, you’re in real trouble. But that’s not necessarily the case. ‘According to our model, your mental and physical health and who you’re in touch with accounts for 50% of your confidence in retirement,’ says Dr Ghafoori. ‘That means half of your experience comes down to who you know, who you’re in touch with, and how well you feel.’
Another key study undertaken by the Fund is the Aging Workforce Ready program. This study highlights that older workers often face negative stereotypes, which can have a significant impact on their experience in the workplace, creating stress and affecting their mental health.
Common stereotypes older workers face include taking more sick days, being prone to workplace injuries or not understanding technology. These have been disproven, but the negative impact can’t be ignored. Awareness of these issues means employers and businesses can look at how to support employees to navigate work as they approach retirement.
AustralianSuper supports SuperFriend
AustralianSuper partners with workplace wellbeing organisation SuperFriend to help support our registered employers build positive, supportive and mentally well workplaces.
With one in 5 Australians navigating mental health challenges in any year1, and almost half during their lifetime, this is something we can only improve together.
Additional resources from SuperFriend
SuperFriend provides a range of resources that can help support your workplace and employees. These resources include wellbeing articles, guides, and even a free 15-minute online customised check-in and action plan module.