The importance of mental health in the workplace has grown due to the unpredictable and anxiety-inducing events that occurred throughout 2020. Employees were forced to adopt entirely different living and working conditions, and many suffered damage to their mental health as a result. And accounting firms in particular were very affected with all of the additional work with JobKeeper, stimulus measures etc.
This increases the likelihood that employees are unable to focus at work and lose productivity. Therefore, workplaces have an increased responsibility to support employees in managing their mental health. Managers, supervisors and team leaders, in general, are an effective medium through whom this support can be provided.
The first thing leaders need to be able to do is to display their own vulnerabilities. This is an important first step that requires balancing professionalism whilst being honest about personal challenges that may have arisen due to the various events that took place in 2020. They should consider starting off with small issues that cause discomfort so that employees are more open to discussing their problems and effects on their mental health. The main purpose of this strategy is to make employees feel more comfortable with expressing their mental health concerns so that appropriate steps can be taken to support them.
Building a culture that encourages communication
Encourage a culture amongst your team to conduct regular check-ins about where they are with their workload, deadlines, and mental health. This will do two main things:
- Let your team know they are valued: Knowing that you are concerned with how they are coping with the load and how this might be contributing to poor mental health will let employees know that they, and their work, are valued.
- Keep teams updated: Knowing how employees respond to different tasks, deadlines and how this impacts their well-being is important information. This will assist in making decisions about task allocations and inform you and other managers about what support might need to be provided.
Communication is a great tool. It gives insights into the detailed workings of the business and can also be beneficial in improving business performance, if used correctly.
Circumstances are always changing. Whilst communication will keep you more informed than they would otherwise be, responding to the information they have yielded is essential. One positive from 2020 was the implementation of work from home practices. You and your team should discuss the possibility of work from home and whether this would be helpful to employees in managing their mental health concerns. Offering flexibility may, in itself relieve some pressure as employees know that they have this facility in times of particular stress.
These suggestions do involve substantial changes in company processes. However, implementing these changes are beneficial to employees (improved mental health) and employers (mentally healthier employees means more productive employees), and therefore should be applied in workplaces.
And don’t forget there is the Counting on U program specifically set up for business advisors of SMEs. Counting on U is an Australian-wide, workplace mental health, and relationship-building intervention, that aims to provide training to business advisors to better support the needs of small-to-medium (SME) business owners. Find out more here.
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