Today we celebrate ‘R U OK? Day’: an important opportunity to check in with those around us, to provide support, and to show appreciation. R U OK? Day reminds us of the importance of being aware of what’s going on for others and the risks associated with mental health issues in society.
R U OK Day is also a great opportunity to reflect on what we have done in our workplaces, as employers, managers and employees, to create positive workplaces that allow individuals to flourish free from unnecessary stressors and strain. The reality is that we are working in increasingly complex, changing, and fast paced work environments that can result in experiences of significant stress and pressure. This can be further compounded by the challenges of day to day life, including family pressures, finances, and relationship issues.
We have a shared responsibility to look out for each other, to notice the signs of one’s difficulties or failure to cope, and to ask the question: “Are you ok?” Beyond Blue released a report last year that suggests that employees feel that having a mentally healthy workplace is as important has having a physically safe one. Yet approximately half of Australian workers don’t feel that their workplace is mentally healthy. Furthermore, 21% of Australian employees reported that they had taken time off work in the preceding year due to feeling mentally unwell, and employees who believe their workplace is mentally unhealthy are disinclined to disclose any mental health concerns or seek support. So despite the fact that our colleagues may say they’re ok, sometimes they are not and it’s difficult to detect some of the more subtle signs that someone is suffering from occupational stress or mental illness.
What can we do to combat this issue in the workplace?
As employees, we can best support colleagues by staying connected, offering assistance, creating an inclusive environment and encouraging open discussion about mental health and wellbeing. If we think someone may be struggling, we should reach out and assist them to get help if needed. Some of the common signs and symptoms of mental health issues include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Arriving late for work
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Being unusually teary or emotional
- Becoming easily frustrated
- Finding it hard to meet deadlines
- Difficulty accepting constructive feedback
- Difficulty managing time
- Excessive eating and/or alcohol consumption
- Loss of confidence
- No sense of purpose
- Negative thoughts
- Suicidal ideation
- Appearing restless or on edge
- Avoiding certain people or tasks
- Becoming easily overwhelmed
- Difficulty making decisions
- Constant worrying and apprehension
- Engaging in self-destructive or risk behaviour
To successfully promote a psychologically healthy workplace, employers need to understand the workplace factors that may negatively impact worker wellbeing. Such hazards are referred to as psychosocial hazards, and include:
- Unpleasant shift schedules (inflexible, unpredictable, unsocial, night work)
- High work demands (excessive workloads, time pressures, high cognitive demands)
- Lack of control over work (low autonomy, low opportunities for participation)
- Lack of variety/interest (short work cycles, fragmented or meaningless work, under-use of skills, monotony)
- Lack of support (inadequate equipment or other resources, lack of personal/social support)
- Poor interpersonal relationships (isolation, conflict and extreme examples include bullying or violence from co-workers)
- Role conflicts/ambiguities, home/work conflicts and job insecurity and career uncertainty
- Job insecurity (uncertainty and instability in organisational sustainability, lack of opportunities for progression)
- Home-work interface (low support at home, relationship issues, conflicting demands of work and home life)
To address these issues, employers should establish systems to identify these hazards, assess the risk of adverse health and wellbeing outcomes, and put strategies in place to manage these factors. Ultimately, occupational stress is a preventable condition. By reducing or eliminating occupational stress, we can substantially improve health and wellbeing outcomes by reversing or preventing the health impacts and burden of those conditions that are related to occupational stress.
Today, consider taking time out to do something positive to look out for others. Consider what actions you can take to promote a psychologically healthy workplace. Perhaps this is determining what your organisation could be doing to reduce exposure to stressors and hazards.
But importantly, have a chat to a colleague, or a friend or loved one, and check in and ask how they are going. Just remember, a simple question like “Are you ok?” could start off a conversation that changes someone’s life forever…
For more information, please visit www.ruok.org.au