How to improve employee mental health and corporate wellbeing in a post-pandemic world

Workers and leaders have shown incredible resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic, but living with uncertainty and dealing with factors beyond our control has taken its toll.

Some employees struggled to manage increased workloads while juggling the many demands of professional and personal life, while one in five reported being unemployed or underemployed. People have had to cope with a range of personal issues from intimate partner relationships and family concerns to loss of income and housing challenges.

Meanwhile, workplace policies to deal with the many health and safety risks created or amplified by the pandemic have been developed reactively and implemented at pace.

The cost of poor workplace mental health and wellbeing

Australia’s Productivity Commission estimates that poor mental health costs the national economy more than $200 billion each year. Safe Work Australia research suggests that psychological injuries are on the rise, with 9 per cent of workers’ compensations claims being related to mental health conditions in 2021.

Certain risks including bullying, sexual harassment, or occupational violence have the potential to cause significant acute harm. However, more subtle considerations such as role overload, low job control, poor leadership support, interpersonal conflict, low recognition and rewards, and job insecurity impact wellbeing over time, but can still result in harm to individuals as well as organisations.

The more psychosocial risks that are present within an organisation or team, the greater the risk that psychological harm to an individual may occur.

A psychosocially healthy workplace delivers valuable individual, team and organisational benefits including enhanced performance and productivity; lower absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover, recruitment, and training costs; improved employee wellbeing, morale, job satisfaction, talent acquisition and retention; and faster mental illness recovery times.

Organisations also derive financial benefit, with a return on investment of $4.10 for every dollar spent on proactive mental health and wellbeing initiatives. This financial benefit is usually derived from increased productivity and reduced compensation claims.

The value of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) offer mental health services to staff employed by a range of public and private sector organisations. These are funded by employers and free for employees to access.

Although EAPs weren’t traditionally intended to provide support for acute mental health crises situations, they are well suited to picking up the strain when public mental health services are overextended.

Well-developed EAP services prevent, intervene in, and aid recovery from workplace psychological injury. They are a reliable source of employee wellbeing data, helping leaders to identify and manage psychosocial risk.

The effects and consequences of poor mental health in the workplace are multifaceted and cannot be addressed through simplistic or tokenistic approaches. Organisations need to be proactive in identifying and managing risks to support the creation and maintenance of mentally healthy environments.

Five ways to minimise workplace mental health and wellbeing risks

  • Allow employees to make decisions about how work is done and the pace of completion
  • Ensure tasks and responsibilities are rotated in roles with high emotional demands
  • Implement a mental health policy complemented with training targeted at different levels
  • Manage workloads to ensure a balance between work demands and available resources
  • Train employees and leaders to recognise the early warning signs of mental illness

Download our ‘Nurture, Empower, Thrive’ whitepaper now and help your business accelerate its pandemic recovery.