Emerging practices in employee mental health and wellbeing

There is no denying that 2020 has been a big year for individuals, and as a result of this there is a growing number of individuals who are requiring support around their mental health and wellbeing.

What can you do as their employer to assist?

Let’s first start by understanding what mental health and wellbeing is.

  • Mental health refers to the psychological state of mind. It is a positive concept related to the social and emotional wellbeing of individuals and communities. Having good mental health, or being mentally healthy, is more than just the absence of illness, rather it’s a state of overall wellbeing.
  • Mental wellbeing refers to an individuals ability to cope with and respond to changes, challenges and emotions around them, both in their personal and work lives.

An individual’s mental health is influenced by several biological, psychological, social and environmental factors which interact in complex ways. These include:

  • Structural factors such as safe living environments, employment, education, freedom from discrimination and violence, and access to economic resources.
  • Community factors such as a positive sense of belonging, community connectedness, activities to highlight and embrace diversity, social support, and participation in society.
  • Individual factors such as the ability to manage thoughts and cope with stressors and having communication and social skills to support connection with others.

There are a number of opportunities for employers to develop a mental health and wellbeing program tailored to their workforce.

  • Personalise mental health and wellbeing by identifying opportunities to incorporate mental health measures in your business organisation. This can be ways to destigmatise and normalise mental health through encouraging open communication. Personalise it in meetings by creating room to talk about how individuals are feeling, developing connections through support networks for like minded people, and allowing individuals to share experiences through associate platforms and communication tools.
  • Involve leaders and managers in driving mental health efforts, starting at the top with the CEO and cascading down through levels of management. Start by encouraging leaders to role model wellbeing behaviours, including flexible work hours, working from home and sharing personal experiences. Equip your leaders and managers with the tools to be connected leaders, create psychologically safe work environments to informally check in with employees and provide resources to support employees.

  • Develop systems of support to provide, communicate and update health and wellbeing offerings to support your employees.
    • Create safe places to connect with others suffering. Peer Support Networks, Employee resources groups, and buddy programs.
    • Increase the presence of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or medical services through internal flyers, email signatures and business communications.
    • Introduce Wellbeing Officers who are employees who have been trained to provide confidential and impartial information and support to help employees make an informed decision.
    • Allow a portion of sick leave to be accessed to address mental wellbeing and to use it to recharge, take care of life admin or exercise during an otherwise business daily workload.
    • Radical flexibility. Acceptance / permission from managers to allow employees autonomy to self manage throughout the day/week to determine how, when and amount of work to be effective. 
    • Encourage mini breaks between customer service calls or back to back meetings, block out time in their calendar to get some respite and to reset (rest before the next sprint).

  • Review and report on the impacts of mental health contributors (work, leaders and culture) to start looking at the causes and not just the impact.  Use internal data to assess how often are people working, are they taking regular breaks, which are our toxic leaders and managers, identify employees/departments working to maximum capacity and utilise performance management and exit data. With this information review and align your mental health and wellbeing strategy and offerings.

Each year, approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness.

It is also estimated about 45% of Australians may experience mental illness at some point in their lives.

Take the time to understand the employees who work in your business and start developing a strategy to address and support their mental health and wellbeing needs.

For further assistance with developing a mental health and wellbeing strategy contact Small Business Society.

The information provided in this document is for your guidance only and is general in nature. It does not constitute as legal advice. It is the responsibility of the individual to seek legal advice where required. If you are a small business with less than 15 employees your obligations may vary from the advice provided.


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About Kate Tongue

Kate Tongue is the founding Director of Small Business Society.

She is a qualified and experienced Human Resources professional with more than 10 years of experience across the private and public sectors.

Her particular interest and experience is in managing the employee life cycle, delivering process improvements, and Human Resource strategy.


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