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Creating a mentally healthy small business

Creating a mentally healthy business can encourage good mental health and prevent mental health concerns, as well as helping to support the mental health and wellbeing of yourself and your employees.

In Australia, 20% of all people will experience a mental illness in any given year, and 45% will experience a mental illness at some time in their life. Chances are you or one of your employees may deal with mental ill-health at some point. As such, it is important to do what you can in your workplace to help support mental health and those who may be experiencing problems.

A mentally healthy workplace is beneficial to yourself, your staff and your business. By implementing the practices recommended below, you will be able to create a positive workplace culture, making your business somewhere you and your staff will want to work. You will have more engaged and productive workers and be more productive yourself.

What is a mentally healthy workplace?

Simply put, a mentally healthy workplace is one which:

  • Acknowledges that mental health is an important issue and should be prioritised within the workplace. This includes talking about and normalising mental ill-health.
  • Is aware of factors that might contribute to poor mental health within the workplace. Business owners can be made aware of these factors by openly discussing issues or challenges present for those in the workplace, evaluating workplace culture, assessing workplace factors such as health and safety, or conducting research on mental health.
  • Improves workplace factors, which may contribute to mental ill-health, being flexible where possible, and making reasonable adjustments when needed. This may include setting new rules/policies, improving workloads, or being responsive to signs of mental health problems.
  • Maintains the actions put in place to improve mental health, revising these where necessary. Avoid reverting to the old ways, which were impacting workplace mental health.

Tips for creating a mentally healthy workplace

A mentally healthy workplace is not just one that prevents mental ill-health; it also promotes good mental health and wellbeing and helps you and your employees feel supported.

Every small business is unique, and just because you may not have the same tools or resources as larger businesses does not mean you can’t make your workplace mentally healthy. Below are some suggestions to get you started:

For sole traders:

  • Develop workplace relationships: Working alone can be isolating, so having friendly interactions throughout the day will help you feel more connected. You can build relationships with the people you interact with at work, or with other sole traders in similar work to you. Finding someone who can relate to your situation can be helpful.
  • Celebrate small wins: Acknowledge yourself when you do something good. You might have a brilliant idea for a client or finish a job. Whatever it is, find a small way you can celebrate.
  • Improve your physical work environment: Introducing just a few small things that make your work environment more pleasant can improve mood and focus, making you more productive too. For example, if you work on job sites, listen to music as you work. If you work in an office environment take breaks from long periods of sitting.
  • Do not overwork yourself: Do not set yourself unrealistic deadlines or take on more than you can reasonably manage – you are only one person. This also includes taking your lunch breaks and finishing work on time.
  • Work-life balance: Try not to bring work home with you, keep work within your set work hours. If your workload is quieter on any day or week then use the opportunity to give yourself an early mark, a long lunch or meet a friend for coffee. You can read more on work-life balance here.
  • Respond quickly to issues: If any work-related issue arises, address and resolve it as soon as possible before things snowball and become a bigger problem. For example, dealing with your taxes can be daunting and tempting to put off, however, the sooner you get on top of it the easier it will be. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has some useful resources for small businesses on this topic.
  • Increase your awareness of mental health: Read up on mental health, complete some training or watch informational videos. This knowledge can come in handy to identify symptoms in yourself so you know when you should reach out for help.

For employers:

  • Develop trust and respect in the workplace: Involve staff in team-building exercises and encourage them to engage and assist one another with workplace tasks. Having strong social connections at work will build trusting relationships, encourage honest communication about feelings and improve the chances an issue will be identified and supported.
  • Communicate openly and regularly with staff: Staff have valuable insight into your workplace. Listen to their input and suggestions around workplace improvements. Let them know you appreciate their feedback and implement changes where possible. This will make employees feel valued and listened to.
  • Provide regular feedback: It is important to tell employees when they are doing something well and when they are not. Help employees understand how to perform their jobs properly, rather than have other employees display frustration towards them.
  • Celebrate small wins: If your employee makes a great sale or creates a high-quality product, acknowledge it. For example, you could create a friendly competition between staff with a monthly prize to create a bit of excitement around workplace achievements.
  • Do not overwork your employees: Provide employees with a reasonable workload and do not set unrealistic deadlines. Provide the correct resources and training for the job. This will help reduce work stress and contribute to increased wellbeing and productivity.
  • Work-life balance: Accommodating time off where possible will help employees feel respected and motivated to contribute to the business. You could give employees an occasional day off or an early mark if you are not busy.
  • Respond quickly to issues: If any issue arises, address and resolve it before it escalates. Remember, there is a lot of support available for employees, so you don’t have to do this alone.
  • Increase awareness of mental health: Have some mental health resources readily available to employees. By displaying this type of information, you are normalising mental ill-health, reducing stigma in the workplace and welcoming open communication around these topics. You could print out some information or do some training with your employees, such as the training provided by Heads Up.
  • Develop the skills to talk to employees you are worried about: It’s a good idea to establish how you would approach an employee you were worried about to build your confidence for these conversations.

Legal responsibilities

As an employer and business owner under Work Health and Safety (WHS) you also have legal responsibilities to eliminate or minimise the risk to psychological health and safety within the business. For more information and resources on this, visit Safe Work Australia’s website.

Further reading

More Resources