Working toward better mental health at work

Mike Davis shares some of the things that organisations can do to give staff a…

Working toward better mental health at work

Mike Davis shares some of the things that organisations can do to give staff a much needed mental health boost.

2020 has turned out to be a year of immense challenge and opportunity. Starting with the bushfires and cascading into a pandemic, it is in many ways the year that the summer momentum never enabled us to lift off as we might have liked. 

A particular challenge has been the on again off again and ever changing nature of our lockdown here in Victoria. It has been a testing time for our collective mental health as we grapple with uncertainty, a longing for pre-COVID normality and a range of new stressors.

Lifeline data tells us that upon Stage four lockdown, calls from Victorians lifted by 30 per cent. Drinking and substance use increased, as did youth presentations to emergency departments due to mental health issues.

One of the most confusing quandaries imposed by COVID-19 has been understanding the blurred lines between home and work and how we can support our colleagues who may be silently (or expressly) suffering from mental health issues. Work is now taking place where we eat, sleep and live day to day. So our home takes on the added element of becoming our workplace. 

RUOK day sparked an incredible response in prompting workplaces to ask their people how they are going and if they are in fact ok. But the work doesn’t end here, it is just the beginning. There are a range of things we can do from an organisational perspective to give us a much needed mental health boost. 

1. Mental health first aid training

In response to COVID-19, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is now conducting online training courses for both workplaces and the general community. These courses are vital given the prevalence of mental health issues at work and in the general community. We know that one in five of us will experience a mental illness in our lifetime that will also show up at work. 

MHFA training gives you the skills and knowledge required to assist someone developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. This is a key part of early intervention, where we can learn to support our colleagues and community at the early stages of mental health difficulty. 

As of 2020, over 850,000 Australians and almost 4 million people worldwide have attended an MHFA course. At TaskForce, we are accredited mental health first aid trainers and can assist you or your work to get this important training. Since July 2019, 62 participants have completed MHFA with TaskForce. The majority of these participants are professional people who work in the welfare/ community services/ education sectors.

2. Virtual buddying

Do you have a regular work buddy that you check in with a few times a week? If not, it is a great way to meet someone new, show your compassion, develop a new relationship and help each other through the challenges of these abnormal times. 

As well as having a regular buddy at work, at TaskForce we were recently assigned buddies for RUOK? Day and throughout COVID-19 to check in on and make sure we are making a regular and meaningful connection.

Some unintended benefits of this arrangement have been building relationships across all levels of the organisation. Discussing the challenges and opportunities posed by COVID-19 and getting to know about other parts of our organisation. 

3. Zoom lunches

Lunch has become the time between Zoom meetings where many of us are just coming up for air and taking a short break before getting stuck into the afternoon’s work. 

It used to be a time for communal get togethers, shared meals, diverse and engaging conversation and connection. It was a time to deepen connections with our colleagues and to bring a different side of ourselves to the table.

At TaskForce we have recently implemented a drop-in lunch room twice a week, where anyone can drop in and eat their lunch with colleagues. The virtual group lunch is the perfect way to bring the water cooler conversation back, where it might not be present in many agenda and task focused Zoom calls.

4. Regular rituals

What are your organisation’s daily rituals? At TaskForce, we have the Daily Chuckle, an email that provides a dose of daily humour each day. Other options might be to join a Zoom or do the daily crossword, quiz or trivia together. 

Otherwise, our internal staff newsletter keeps us up to date with what’s going on around the organisation and regularly profiles individual staff members. This is accompanied by a monthly update to all staff from the CEO, which lifts morale and ensures we are openly discussing and troubleshooting challenges that are emerging across the organisation. 

COVID-19 is a time to create and maintain regular social patterns and rituals to ensure that we are reducing social isolation, increasing togetherness and ensuring that we do our best to reduce the risk of mental health issues emerging.