OPINION

Business leaders must keep mental health awareness top of the agenda

Business leaders must keep mental health awareness top of the agenda

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses across the globe were forced to change the way they operated.

As the world navigated the challenges of restrictions and lockdown, new methods of coping emerged.

It forced business leaders to increase their focus and attention on the physical safety and mental health of their employees.

While the extremes of the pandemic are no longer being felt locally in Australia, the effects will be experienced for some time to come particularly for leaders who were required to support employees with families and friends overseas.

Recent Roy Morgan research showed that although the lockdowns were effective at curbing COVID-19, the impact on mental health, particularly to younger generations, may be felt long term.

In this next stage as many grapple with the fallout of the pandemic, psychological as well as physical work health and safety programs will be crucial to sustain long term recovery.

As a result, organisational leaders have both an opportunity and an obligation to ensure that mental health does not slip from the agenda.

During 2020, anxiety and depression saw the largest increases with substance abuse being used as a coping mechanism.

These issues, while heightened by the pandemic, still reflect the underlying prevalence of mental health issues in Australia and globally.

While it's vital we maintain provision of support for the 25 per cent who are struggling, now is the time for a positive psychology approach. By targeting those who are "getting by" or "OK", conscious leaders can play a pivotal role in moving them towards thriving.

If someone is thriving, they are progressing, developing themselves and showing improvements in confidence and productivity.

But it doesn't just impact our work life, someone who's been given the support to thrive will be the kind of person who wakes up feeling they have a purpose, that they can do their best and leave work feeling that they still have the energy to do things that give them joy in their home life.

Sally Kirkright

Sally Kirkright

Assisting in creating a workplace that is full or individuals who aren't just surviving but are thriving could be the biggest lesson of the past 18 months for business leaders.

Achieving this requires professional help. An employee assistance program (EAP) is an important piece in the overall mental health system which comprises telehealth, GPs mental health and specialist support.

The Employee Assistance Program Association Australia (EAPAA) recently crunched the numbers to reinforce this. EAPAA provider members look after 8160-plus organisations, covering 8,200,000-plus employees in the Australian market.

In addition, these EAPAA members provide mental health support for those employees' close family members. This means that as an industry EAPs deliver support to approximately 15 million Australians.

Over the past 12 months, the Australian EAP providers have responded to more than 9000 critical incidents, providing more than 58,000 hours of service for critical incidents and crisis counselling.

So now it's time to act, and as corporate leaders it's your responsibility to raise awareness of EAP for your people, their families and the broader community. It's incumbent upon all of us for the social good and health of our people to provide support, and make sure they know the support is there with privacy and confidentiality assured.

Personally, I believe in bearing witness and letting my leadership team know that it's OK to ask for help.

As the pandemic kept on keeping on last year, I needed help to practice self-care and recognise what I needed to do to be the leader AccessEAP needed at such a challenging time.

Leading by example means paying attention to your behaviour and how it influences your people.

I encourage leaders to take the opportunities to have conversations with your teams. Don't underestimate the power of the genuine full-bodied "how are you?", asked in an environment conducive to a real answer followed up by equally engaged and authentically interested questions supported by an intention to listen.

It's over to you as a business leader, show your people you really do care and demonstrate that strong leadership and a commitment to a culture of thriving through good mental health can go hand in hand.

Sally Kirkright is chief executive of Australian-owned social enterprise AccessEAP.

This story Business leaders must keep mental health awareness top of the agenda first appeared on The Canberra Times.