The impacts of COVID-19 have put a spotlight on the importance of mental wellbeing and the role we all play in reducing mental health stigma and discrimination. Mental health does not discriminate. Despite workplace mental health being an issue that requires greater attention, mental health statistics show that only half of Australians believe they are working in a supportive, healthy environment.
Recent ABS data indicates that 1 in 5 Australians are likely to experience a mental health condition in any given year. Identifying the early warning signs of mental health issues is a crucial step in managing it – both for yourself, and for your employees.
Identifying the Signs in Yourself
Managing your own mental wellbeing is the first step toward supporting your employees. As a small business owner, you are not alone, with many facing worries that keep them up at night through no fault of their own. Being solely responsible for your business’s success or failure can takes its toll, overlaid with impacts outside of your control, including the current economic downturn. So it’s unsurprising that more than half of small business owners experience mental health issues at some point. While sometimes the signs that you’re struggling may be more evident to a family member, friend or business partner, there are some physical changes that you can look out for in recognising that you may need support. Some of these include:
- Sleep – Having trouble falling asleep even when you feel tired
- Fatigue – Always feeling tired regardless of how much rest and/or sleep you’ve had
- Feeling nervous, anxious, irritable, or on edge (even if there’s nothing worrying you)
- Trouble concentrating, focusing, or making decisions
- Becoming frustrated when asked for directions from your employees
- Overeating or having no appetite
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Tearfulness or frequent crying
- Tense muscles, shakiness, or trembling
- Stomach pain, upset stomach, or headache
- Lower productivity at work
- Drug or alcohol abuse – especially if you’re finding you’re reaching for a drink more and more often as a way of coping
If you do feel you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it’s important to seek help. It doesn’t need to be professional support in the first instance – speaking to a friend or family member, is a great first step; or your local GP.
Identifying the Signs in your Employees
Your employees are just as susceptible to mental health issues as you are. The health of your business is highly dependent on the wellbeing of employees. However, while mental illness is treatable, Australian government data shows that around two thirds of people with a mental illness do not seek any treatment. The challenge for you as an employer lies in identifying the signs in your employees, given they may not be so obvious. Some subtle warning signs include:
- Frequent absenteeism – an employee is suddenly calling in sick more often
- Withdrawing from workplace social banter
- Always looking tired or sleep deprived – this may be an indication of sleep problems or fatigue
- Unusually frequent toilet breaks – may indicate stomach problems caused by stress
- Easily becoming defensive or irritable when questioned
- Lower productivity at work
- Always seems distracted
If your employees are demonstrating any of the above signs, be supportive in your interactions; ask how they are doing because you’re concerned, and most importantly - listen. Encourage them to explain what’s going on, and how they are feeling. Their challenges may or may not be work related, and it’s important to be respectful of how much your employees are willing to share with you. Some good options for action might include them talking to a trusted family member or friend; helping them find professional support such as their GP, Doctor or community support, such as Beyond Blue or LifeLine.
If you feel there is work related stress, we suggest keeping an open mind and working together to find solutions on how to improve the situation. You can read more about managing workplace stress here.
And finally, remember to check back in and see how they are doing. If they haven’t done anything, don’t judge them. Understand that sometimes it can take a while before they are ready to seek help. Most people are afraid to reach out and feel they won’t be supported and cannot be helped. Try to reinforce the benefits of seeking professional help and trying different avenues.
Aon is proud to be partnering with Lifeworks to provide an affordable counselling and support program to optimise mental, social, physical and financial wellbeing. LifeWorks can help you focus on day to day operations, knowing your employees have professional support, when they need it most. Visit aon.com.au/lifeworks to find out more or download a brochure.
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