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Mentally healthy workplaces

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From Beyond Blue’s Lead Clinical Advisor - Dr Grant Blashki

Gabrielle Chariton


Contributor to Housing

Hints on how to Managing the work/life balance

  • People in the residential construction industry often carry much responsibility which can make them particularly vulnerable to a deterioration in mental health.
  • They're on the tools they feel like they’re the provider, they are the protector of the family they're looking after their staff, their apprentices, their family's income, their clients, the expectations of their clients.
  • Often the only people that they can turn to for support is their spouse, or if it's a family business, the merging of family life and work life puts extra pressure on that relationship
  • One of the difficulties for small businesses generally is that the boundaries between your personal life and your work life can get pretty blurry ‘… a lot of people say “I thought I was working from home, but now I'm living at work, so that I don't actually get a break from it”.’
Dr Grant Blashki

Dr Grant Blashki recommends the following techniques for improving the work/life balance and reducing stress:

  • ‘First of all be really mindful that it’s a full-on responsibility. Running your own show … it's not so easy to take time off, or you know if there's a problem, it does land at your feet.’
  • If you’re working from home, it’s a good idea to locate your work area in a different part of the house, a different room, so at the end of the day you can put it away and close the door on it.
  • Set clear work hours and non-work hours. When you’re finished for the day, close the computer, put your phone on aeroplane mode. ‘Just be off the hook for a couple of hours because the human mind isn't good on all time. You really need those breaks.’
  • Manage staff (and clients’) expectations around your availability. For example: ‘If there's something absolutely urgent, ring me on Sunday but really we're going to try and keep the work mainly during work hours.’ Grant says: ‘So that's a sort of mature conversation and it depends on your industry and what's possible, then creating some boundaries around that.’
  • Make sure that you take leave every now and then. At the moment, ‘many people don't want to take a break because they can't travel [due to the pandemic], but make sure you schedule in those breaks,’ Grant says. ‘What I've noticed as a GP is all my patients who've taken a break, even if that break was off work, at home, have come back and said, “Oh my gosh I came back and in one day and I did a month's worth of work … my mind was relaxed and I was back on it”.’


Workplace management strategies

Dr Grant Blashki says there are lots of good reasons to have a mentally healthy workplace:

  • ‘Price Waterhouse Coopers did some great work for us at Beyond Blue and found that for every dollar that workplaces spend on making it a more mentally healthy workplace, ultimately they got back $2.30. Pretty amazing.’
  • If your team’s morale is low, it affects productivity and profitability. People go off on stress leave, start WorkCover claims or you can lose good workers through increased absenteeism. High staff turnover costs money and compromises efficiencies.
  • Often young people will choose not to work at an ‘oppressive’ workplace: ‘These days they're quite picky and rate a mentally healthy place quite highly’.

Dr Grant Blashki’s tips for maintaining staff morale:

  • ‘The whole idea of a mentally healthy workplace is more than a pie in the sky idea … “Let's all sit around and sing Kumbaya, and be happy little Vegemites”. That’s not how it works at workplaces, when you’re trying to get a job done.’ Why? Because there are so many complex personalities in play.
  • There are things that leaders can do in a workplace to make it more mentally healthy, because leaders set the culture. Number one: zero tolerance on bullying and discrimination. We always have that choice: are we going to join in on the gossip or the bad mouthing someone or are we going to let it go? ‘And you can set that culture as the leader by really keeping your professionalism and demonstrating that we're not having any of that. That's not happening.’
  • The second thing leaders can do is share their own vulnerabilities. ‘They don't have to bare their soul to their workers or break down crying … but just to talk about the difficulties that they might be having in an environment, and it sort of sets the tone that we're all human, we're all doing our best at the moment —that can be quite useful.’

Toolkit for managing workplace stress:

The ‘Heads Up’ website contains resources and information for managers, business owners and employees on a range of topics from creating a mentally healthy workplace, looking after your employees, and coping strategies during these difficult times. ‘There’s heaps of good tips on there,’ Grant says.