Creating a supportive work environment this R U OK? Day

Your employees’ mental health matters. This R U OK? Day, get advice on how to start important conversations at work and keep them going throughout the year…

First published on Wednesday, Sep 13, 2023

Last updated on Thursday, Sep 14, 2023

4 min read

Almost half of all Australian adults will face mental health challenges during their lives and, every year over 65,000 people attempt suicide.

With the average employee spending a significant portion of their life at work, including commuting to and from your worksites, you have a huge responsibility as an employer.

Firstly, to check in on staff and take steps to reduce the impact work can have on their stress levels. And secondly, to start important conversations about mental health that must be had if we’re going to reduce these statistics.

So, this R U OK? Day, we’re reminding employers across Australia about the importance of asking R U OK? at work. And how this year’s theme—“I’m here to hear”—is a reminder simply taking the time to listen can make a lasting difference in someone’s life.

Read on for advice on how to make sure staff are ok at work this R U OK? Day and beyond…

Remember safety at work includes psychological safety

When we talk about health & safety at work, we often only refer to risks and hazards that could injure an employee physically.

As important as physical safety is, employers are also legally obligated to protect workers from psychosocial hazards. These are hazards and risks that could cause psychological harm in the workplace and can stem from any number of sources including:

  • Job demands
  • The physical environment employees have to work in
  • Harassment and poor conflict resolution

Psychosocial hazards are often not as easy to resolve as those physical hazards and risks. So, it’s important to create a work environment where employees can turn to their managers—and each other—for a listening, empathetic ear.

Making this happen involves arming your people with the tools they need, like effective communication skills, so investing in effective soft skills training is key.

Encourage a healthy work-life balance

Part of improving mental health at work is by helping employees reach a healthy work-life balance. This means striking the right balance between the demands of work with personal life and the time off that replenishes your employees.

That said, life is full of ups and downs and employees are likely to go through periods during their time with you where the demands of their personal life take precedence and they require more support.

In these moments, compartmentalising might not be realistic… so, what can you do instead to help?

R U OK? Day is all about creating space for meaningful conversations and connections and making sure employers and employees alike know you don’t need to be a mental health expert to help. You just need to ask and listen.

Encourage employees who are struggling to speak to their managers and confidentially address any concerns they have about their personal lives affecting their work.

Listen without judgement and point them in the right direction to get help, whether that’s through support you offer within your company or signposting to external support.

Finally, keep the conversation going all year round

It’s important to acknowledge that while marking R U OK? Day at work is an important step in the right direction, keeping the conversation going throughout the year should be your aim.

What can you do as an employer?

  1. Listen to your employees. The beauty of creating a supportive work environment is that employees feel comfortable telling you what they need to unlock their full potential at work—all you need to do is listen.

  2. Share resources. Having a trusted ear and a safe space to voice their struggles can be invaluable for employees, but making sure you give your employees wellbeing tools and resources will help them keep going when the going gets tough.

  3. Empower your employees to find more value in their work with training and skill development opportunities. BrightLearn is our powerful Learning Management System that lets your employees complete e-learning courses on a variety of topics from wherever they are.

  4. Show your team that you appreciate their hard work with cash-saving perks and discounts from leading brands. Give your staff deals on everything from cinema tickets to car hires with BrightExchange.

Have more questions about your obligations to your employees and how you can support better mental health at work? We’ve got thousands of answers to all your employee relations dilemmas.

Ask BrightLightning

Can mental health make an employee unfit for work?

Yes, an employee’s ill mental health could make them unfit for work, depending on the nature of their illness and the inherent requirements of the role. However, ill mental health might not necessarily mean that the employee is unfit to work if it does not affect their ability to carry out the inherent requirements of their role.

What can I do if an employee says their mental health is the reason for their poor performance?

Where an employee discloses mental health or physical health issues in the course of having their poor performance addressed, it is important to understand whether the employee’s health issues are impacting their fitness to perform the role. As such, considerations may include whether any health issues have previously been declared by the employee or accommodated by the business, whether any medical evidence has been provided to advise of the employee’s capacity, and what input the employee has on how their health may be impacting their performance. These matters are often complex and should be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Please call the Advice team for more information on addressing these types of matters.

What are five common reasons for poor work performance?

There are many reasons why an employee might be performing poorly in their role. Firstly, it’s important to check for whether there are any underlying health or medical conditions that could be affecting the employee’s performance. If there isn’t, common reasons for poor performance might be that the employee lacks the requisite skills, knowledge or experience for the role, the employee does not know what is expected of them or believes that they are already performing to the required standard, the job is a poor fit for the employee, or they have lost motivation for the job. If you think that your employee may be performing poorly, then it’s best to speak to an adviser for specific advice on how you can turn the employee’s performance around.

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