By starting with the simplest of questions R U OK day has opened up countless important conversations about mental health. But for many bosses, the tiny little question is truly scary.
Basic statistics reveal that many within our workforce are not doing OK. Right now, 1 in 6 Australian workers are experiencing a mental health condition. Many more are under serious pressure, with various work, life and financial stresses creating a psychologically challenging path.
While we love to picture ourselves as relaxed, carefree and easy-going, this is no longer the case for most Aussie workers. Instead we are putting in long hours, working in insecure jobs and struggling under the burden of huge household debts. We may be hanging in there, but for many it’s not easy.
Unfortunately, most organisations are yet to adequately address the issue of mental health. Each year R U OK day comes and goes without leaders truly stepping up. As well as asking “R U OK?”, here are five other questions we hope those in leadership positions will pose to themselves.
What if the answer is no?
Understanding how to talk about mental health is an essential skill every manager should possess. Unfortunately, most find it too awkward, feel ill-equipped or worry about saying the wrong thing. On the R U Ok website you will find a few suggestions about how to handle these important conversations. To improve your skills you may also consider taking a mental health first aid course or completing training through the Black Dog Institute.
How can we get proactive?
If they are proactive, there is a lot leaders can do to reduce suffering. A simple starting point is to identify and eliminate practises such as bullying which trigger mental health issues. To help workers cope through times of high stress, it’s also crucial to equip them with the right training and skills. We created RAW Mind Coach precisely for this reason. The program boosts personal resilience, delivering workers a range of skills to more effectively manage difficult thoughts, uncomfortable emotions and all those really tough days on the job.
Do we have a mental health strategy?
Just imagine the dire state your organisation would be in without a financial strategy or a marketing strategy. While we all realise the importance of planning, a frighteningly large proportion of organisations are still without any proper strategy when it comes to mental health. Instead they rely on well-intentioned but piecemeal solutions, which often prove inadequate. If you are looking to develop your own practical approach and examine the evidence behind different strategies, check out this report available from the Heads Up website, or this newly released viewpoint article developed by the Workplace Mental Health Team at UNSW and the Black Dog Institute. Alternatively get some expert advice by speaking to the consultants at the Black Dog Institute.
Will we walk the walk?
Positive change is unlikely to happen while you are putting fear into others with your angry office tirades, bombarding them with after-hours emails or yelling at them to toughen up. Rather than perpetuating the negative behaviours which create toxic cultures, leaders must be prepared to do a little self-examination, make a few personal changes and start to set a very different example. Like Gandhi advised “you must be the change you want to see in the world”.
What is the cost of continued inaction?
Each year Australian organisations lose around $12 billion due to mental health issues. While that’s a scary statistic, it says nothing of the human cost. Right now, chances are that all of us have workmates who are suffering. Do you want to help them or do you want to risk their mental health further? No longer can we afford to ask “R U OK?” and simply hope the answer is “yes”. The cost of inaction cannot be justified. It’s time we provided real support and made sure all workers are properly looked offer.
We would like to thank all those at RUOK? for raising the profile of mental health in Australia. We’d also like to congratulate the many people at all levels who are striving to improve mental health in workplaces everywhere, every day.
If you would like to discover more about RAW Mind Coach or register your interest please contact us.