Employers and experts share their thoughts on supporting employees this World Mental Health Day .

Mental ill-health has increased dramatically during COVID-19, with research showing that these conditions are at least twice[1] as prevalent than they were in March 2020. Further preliminary research also indicates that the majority[2] of Australians are experiencing mild levels of anxiety and depression, with approximately 30% showing moderate to high levels.

This World Mental Health Day (Saturday, 10th October), leading workplace mental health and wellbeing provider, AccessEAP, is encouraging workplaces to consider the positive effects they can have on this current concerning issue.

Marcela Slepica, Clinical Services Director at AccessEAP said:

“Workplaces have a unique opportunity to support the mental health of business leaders and employees. Sadly, only 52%[3] of employees believe they work in a mentally healthy workplace and 20% have taken time off work due to feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unwell. This shows we have room to improve the impact of workplace initiatives on mental health.”

Here, Marcela is joined by Fabian Morgan, Managing Director of building materials company, Ardex Australia and James Pollock, CEO of commercial cleaning company, Academy Services, to discuss the current professional mental health landscape.

No one is unaffected

Marcela said:

“Data on the 2009 influenza pandemic shows that between 25% to 33%[4] of people experience high levels of worry and anxiety during similar outbreaks, with common issues including anxiety and panic, depression, anger, confusion and uncertainty, and financial stress. Such a high incidence rate indicates that a large portion of businesses will experience mental ill-health within their workforce, especially during this current pandemic.”

James added:

“We’ve been helping our employees to learn to cope with a range of issues that could affect mental health during COVID-19, including isolation for those working from home. There is a myriad of potential personal issues to contend with from health concerns and fears for at-risk family members, to household income worries if their partner has lost their job. It’s important for workplaces to be active and understanding now more than ever.”

Fabian added:

“Due to the lengthy timelines of projects and the limited restrictions placed on worksites, the building materials industry has felt a comparatively low impact from COVID-19 when compared to industries such as hospitality, travel and retail. However, it’s important to remember that just because a business is doing well, doesn’t mean that its staff are unaffected.”

No two experiences are the same

Marcela said:

“There are a huge number of factors that can negatively impact mental health and contribute to a range of different conditions at any given time. Depending on local outbreaks, lockdowns, business circumstances and return to work policies, employees will be affected and react in differing ways.”

Recent research[1] shows those most worried about contracting COVID-19 were more likely to report clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety, some also had thoughts that “they would be better off dead”. The impact of the recession also contributes to mental health impacts as people worry about their financial security.

When looking at the states, perhaps unsurprisingly, Victorian residents were more likely than others to experience a high adverse impact of the restrictions. As were those on front-line jobs including healthcare[2].

“People in jobs that require direct or indirect contact with others, such as cleaning, understandably have a heightened concern of contracting COVID-19. It’s vital therefore to have clear health and safety policies and guidance in place to reassure staff that their health is paramount to the business.”

Action should be led at the top

Fabian said:

“Platitudes about looking after mental health at team meetings won’t, and never have, been good enough, which has become clear during COVID-19. Bosses need to make a long-term and genuine commitment to supporting staff in the good times, so they know the business will look after them in the bad times.”

“The Ardex Australia leadership teams make it a personal priority to regularly encourage our colleagues to make use of our EAP, AccessEAP and their online resources, as well as mental health modules on our internal team portal. We also provide the opportunity for people to anonymously raise issues so that we can listen and take action to resolve any problems that could impact on mental health.”

James added:

“At Academy Services, we use our values to define what good mental health means in our business. Our leadership and HR teams are then tasked with ensuring these values are upheld. This can range from helping to resolve conflicts to informing decisions on business policy and practices. This helps us ensure that we are leading the entire team to prioritise mental health.”

Supporting mental health also makes good business sense, said Marcela:

“All businesses should be driven by a duty of care for their teams, but the side effects of doing so can also help a business operate. Research shows that companies see an average return of $2.30 for every $1[3] they spend on effective workplace mental health strategies from a range of beneficial outcomes including increase productivity and loyalty.

 AccessEAP offers a free and confidential counselling service to all employers. For more information, visit www.accesseap.com.au