The significance around mental health has never been more prominent than it is right now. And for good reason, with millions of Australians suffering months of lockdowns and restrictions, leading to skyrocketing cases of loneliness, anxiety, depression, fear of illness, fear for loved ones, and fear of the uncertainty around our futures. And these emotions are not strictly limited just to those in lockdown, nor will they disappear once lockdowns are lifted and Australia collectively ‘reopens’.
The growing emphasis on the need for positive mental health awareness and initiatives is a truly wonderful thing. However, there is still a significant stigma around mental health disorders, particularly in the workplace. We as a society have evolved to idealise perfection, and that also applies to how we present ourselves to others. When asked the question “how are you?” 9 times out of 10, the response “good thanks!” often tumbles out of our mouths automatically, even if we aren’t so good. This is because negative emotions and topics make most of us uncomfortable, and so we therefore don’t want to ‘burden’ others by responding to “how are you?” with an answer like “not good” or “actually I’m really struggling today”. Unfortunately, mental health concerns often fall under this umbrella of negative, uncomfortable topics that many of us are afraid to delve into.
If we posed the question ‘do you support mental health initiatives?’ to any business owner in our industry, they would without a doubt say ‘yes!’ unreservedly. But what does this mean in a tangible sense within your business? Do you have physical resources in place for your staff to access? Do you have protocols in place for when a staff member comes to you saying they require a mental health day off, or are experiencing suicidal thoughts? We’re finding these resources and action plans are few and far between, despite the number of businesses who support mental health initiatives. If this is you, and you’d like to do more but aren’t sure where to start, this piece has been created just for you! Tangible, actionable mental health ideas and resources you can introduce into your business immediately.
Review your sick day policy
Mental health conditions are as severe as physical injuries, and should be treated in the same way. If a staff member injured their hand or sprained their ankle, you wouldn’t raise an eyebrow when providing time off. So too should this sentiment also extend to mental health days. As a business owner or manager who prioritises mental health, your aim should be to establish an environment where your staff do not feel scared or ashamed to request a mental health day if they need it. And if you’re worried your staff will abuse this, this is perhaps a separate concern regarding trust that may need addressing!
Also have a think about your protocols for how staff request sick leave. Have you made it mandatory for your staff to pick up the phone when they require a day off, with a strict no-text policy? We’ve seen plenty of these policies over the years, many of which are worded quite severely, unapologetically, and with no exceptions made, for example “your request will not be acknowledged unless you call”. If someone is battling mental health conditions, calling can feel like the absolute hardest thing in the world. You might want to consider making it okay for staff to text in sick instead of forcing them to call. Or instead, meet them in the middle, and create a please-call-us policy but with exceptions. Kindly ask your staff; if they can’t bring themselves to call asking for the day off, to please text and let you know they are in a position where they’re unable to call.
Create a shared digital space
Start a shared document or folder for your team, whether it’s Google Drive, Dropbox, or a Trello Board, of all things wellbeing and mental health. Here you can share wellness activities for everyone to enjoy – healthy recipes, videos, stretches, breathing exercises, yoga routines, and everything in between in addition to government resources and key phone numbers/websites like Lifeline or Beyond Blue. Rethink.org is a great resource for learning to deal with those experiencing suicidal thoughts. Anyone with mental health conditions has low periods where they may want to engage in activities to boost themselves back up, but simply can’t bring themselves to find the ideas or activities themselves. Even completing a simple Google search can feel like the world’s biggest task some days.
You don’t have to do all the work on your own either – get your team on board to help! Start with a few ideas and activities and encourage your team to add to this on a regular basis and help it grow. Remind your staff weekly that it’s there, so it doesn’t get left forgotten.
Facilitate anonymous feedback
We know lots of business owners and managers that say to their team “please come to me if you have any issues or concerns” or “I’m here if you ever need to talk!”. While you should of course continue saying these positive, supportive statements, talking to others about one’s mental health issues is HARD, so even if you’ve clearly established this open-door policy with your team, it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will take you up on it. As an employee, you never truly know how your boss will react once you’ve told them you have a mental health disorder, and once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. In addition to your open-door policy, why not create an anonymous feedback platform where people can submit their mental health-related issues?
Have regular mental health check-ins, mini meetings, or tack on a quick mental health powwow to your existing team meetings. All work meetings don’t have to be about business! Make it part of your regular team culture – don’t leave it as a once-in-a-blue-moon afterthought.
If you have daily team huddles, you could introduce ‘what am I grateful for today?’ as an activity. Regularly acknowledging and expressing gratitude can be a beautiful, small way of boosting one’s spirits. You could also have a gratitude jar in the kitchen or shared space for staff to contribute to ad hoc, and welcome both named or anonymous notes.
While gratitude is important, while implementing these types of activities we would recommend avoiding activities or sentiments that might be classified as ‘toxic positivity’ – this includes encouraging your staff to always be positive, to always look on the bright side, or saying things like “it could be worse” or “we need to be grateful for what we have.” These statements can easily be taken to heart by those experiencing poor mental wellbeing. These statements can invalidate the emotions someone is experiencing, insinuating that it is unreasonable to be feeling this way, which not only makes things worse but leads to guilt. This type of invalidation and lack of empathy can have a lasting impact and even lead to long lasting mental trauma.
Treats and gifts
If you give gifts to your team that include sugary treats, sweets or chocolate, or even something as simple as a lolly jar or bowl of chocolates in the staff room, you could run the risk of making certain members of your team feel left out due to dietary requirements that means they can’t enjoy them, or worse – triggering those silently suffering body image disorders. Consider switching your sweet treats to healthy ones such as plant-based chocolates that don’t contain dairy and refined sugars, or instead gifting treats for the soul, like mini candles, bath salts, or gratitude journals for example.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
You should never be afraid that your team will get sick of hearing you say the same thing over and over. This kind of repetition is what will one day normalise mental health concerns, making it okay to not be okay, and maybe give someone enough confidence to finally speak to someone and get the help they need. Finish your team meetings, every single one, with “just your weekly/daily reminder that I’m here for you if you want to talk to me about anything mental-health related in a judgement-free zone, I’m not just here for business, I want the best for your wellbeing” – or something along those lines!
While some of these pieces of advice may seem small, or irrelevant, or nit-picky – trust me when I say they are not. As someone who has struggled with mental health for years, and seen all of these issues and more within the beauty industry workplace, l can assure you these efforts can make a real difference to the mental health and wellbeing of your staff, whether they suffer from serious, clinically-diagnosed mental health disorders or the occasional bout of elevated stress. You may never truly see who is suffering silently around you, and you may be surprised to find out that even the bubbliest and happiest of personalities to be the one suffering the most severely. You never know – you may just save a life.