Creating a way of working in high change environments that supports your mental health fitness is an aspiration of many leadership teams at our leading organisations. We delve into what workplace mental health and fitness means with one of our leading experts in the field. Bill Carson works with teams and organisations to create environments that allow us to better manage our mental health fitness without it being taboo. Bill’s work also focuses on supporting managers who want to create better mental health outcomes for their team without it being overwhelming for the managers who work with teams day to day.

Why does this matter for businesses? 

The economic cost of stress in Australian workplaces is over AU$14 billion and spiralling, causing a huge loss of productivity and employee wellbeing. Worse is the personal cost to our mental health – such as anxiety, depression and addictions. People seek relief in social media, alcohol, food, drugs and other forms of escape to soothe themselves. But this doesn’t solve the problem of stress in our lives and in the workplace.[1]

Our own experience

We have all had the experience of personal issues and challenges getting in the way of us doing our jobs well. In years gone past employees were advised to keep their work and personal life separate. Now there is a growing recognition that life happens and difficulties come up. Mental health fitness in the workplace is incredibly valuable because it helps business leaders to identify where their team members are struggling with personal issues or performance issues.


Managers are dealing with mental health issues whether they are trained or not

It is hard for many managers when confronted by these issues. Many will steer away from personal
conversations with their team members because they don’t have the skills to handle them.

As managers, we are not trained to be therapists. Many managers fear that becoming involved in an employee’s problems may cross the line of the working relationship.” Bill explains.

Changing the mental health dynamic at work

This is where mental health fitness steps in. We don’t need to be the therapist. Mental Health Fitness teaches managers to notice the behavioural and physical signs of where a team member might be struggling with mental health challenges. With that recognition comes the ability to learn how to connect with the team member in a caring and compassionate way. By learning to use effective questions and to listen well, managers are able to assess broadly what is happening and point them in the direction of where they can get help. Mental health fitness gives us the skills to refer their team member to the appropriate sources of help and to make them comfortable doing this. Our task is then to support the person to seek the help they need. 

Building trust is very important. Many team members might not open up the first time, it takes a lot of trust to open up to the boss. If you follow up a week or two later, they will see and feel you are genuine and want to help” Bill explains.


The rewards of mental health fitness

Overall, you have a happier, more productive workplace. Team members get the professional support they need and managers can deal with performance more effectively by separating personal matters. Remember, managers don’t have to be therapists. But they can show they care for their team, without getting involved in an inappropriate way.  Team members who have received the benefits of a manager trained in mental health fitness report that they feel more appreciated as people, not just someone who does a job. By understanding mental health issues managers are able to breakdown the stigma that is often associated with these issues not just in the workplace but more broadly in our families and communities.


Prevention of work related mental health issues in times of high organisational change

Stepping in early and helping employees build up their resilience skills is an important way to avoid the impact of stress related mental health issues. Resilience skills play a key role in boosting the capacity of employees to be resilient in high change environments. They not only learn to be adaptable and handle uncertainty but to flourish as well. This supports the business by avoiding downtime and sick leave which happens when people are not resilient enough to thrive in their environment.

What is resilience?

Resilience is more than bouncing back – that implies returning to the status quo. A great definition is – advancing despite adversity – from Jurie Rossouw in “Executive Resilience”. Advancing means to keep growing and achieving our personal and business goals despite the challenges and obstacles we experience. It is not always easy, however, it is about finding the positive side of the adversity.We can only advance if there is a goal to head towards, and hence we need clarity of purpose as a driving force in our business and personal lives.

 Another aspect, often ignored, is developing resilience before facing a major crisis. So often people want to learn resilience afterwards. Your team members need to develop resilience proactively as a skill for successful living, whatever situations arise. Advancing despite adversity includes the wide range of life-altering events on one hand and the minor challenges of everyday life on the other. 

Sometimes it’s all the little things that build up. People are confronted with repeated small stressors like heavy traffic and noisy neighbours, frustrating work colleagues and customers. These small triggers can really add up. “ according to Bill.

Resilience skills help us to stop spending too much time and energy on fretting about things we can’t change, brooding over the past, fears and threats from past trauma and catastrophising and worrying about the future. All of these worries and concerns distract us from the present and our goals. Being able to take minor and major disruptions in our stride is not a natural skill. Throwing someone into the deep end does not guarantee they will learn to swim. Some simply sink. Bill explains. Many CEO’s see high performance as a marathon, not a sprint. Supporting teams with developing resilience is preparing them for the

We all eventually face adversity. It’s not a matter of if, but when. This is the role mental fitness and Resilience training plays. It’s a powerful way to build resilience to help us overcome – rather than succumb to – the challenges of work and life.

Some examples of the types of skills that will help and preparing and reducing the number of unexpected events that you need to deal with and building your ability to respond with tenacity and girt when challenges do occur.

These are skills that can be learned and practiced over time. Organisations who support their leaders and teams early will create the ability to sustain tougher competitive environments and can be linked to better long term organisational performance.

This article was developed in conjunction with Bill Carson, leading specialist in Mental Health Fitness and Resilience. If you would like to develop you or your teams mental health fitness or to create a plan to protect your businesses bottom line click here and ask for a quote from Bill.

Sources:[1]  Econtech. (2008). The cost of workplace stress in Australia. Australia: Medibank Private Limited.