2019 was a landmark year with regards to mental health. Reflecting on the year that has been, it appears that governments, businesses and individuals now all accept the gravity of this issue and the necessity of taking action so that its impacts can be mitigated. This article considers the next steps organisations can take to keep the progress going.
2019. What a year for mental health.
In May, the World Health Organisation reclassified workplace burnout from a ‘state of exhaustion’ to a disease stemming from chronic workplace stress. November saw the Royal Commission into the Victorian Mental Health System release an interim report, which noted a massive spike in demand for mental health services in both rural and metropolitan Victoria. All of this occurred against a backdrop of public discourse where well-known personalities and professionals helped raise awareness for different mental health conditions.
You really get the feeling that the taboo surrounding mental health is starting to deteriorate. We all deserve a pat on the back for how far we have come.
But progress means nothing unless it continues. In 2020, organisations must endeavour to capitalise on the gains made in the past. We aren’t at a point where we can settle down and live with the current state of mental health in Australia. We need new initiatives, greater awareness and, above all else, more empathy than ever before.
Not taking a step forward is, in essence, a step back.
This point is all the more pertinent upon considering the state of millennials’ mental health across the world. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that around 50% of millennials have left a job for reasons associated with their mental health. This demographic – made up of people aged 23-38 in 2019 – are a growing proportion of employees in organisations across Australia. As more and more millennials join our offices, the relevance of organisation-based mental health initiatives increases; this generation is vulnerable in a way other demographics are not. For their sake, we must progress. Unless we improve, they will suffer.
Thankfully, research into the individual, team and organisation-wide impacts of wellbeing programs by PwC and the University of Southern California (published on Forbes.com) sheds light on solid foundations for improvement in 2020.
The research suggests that technology helps improve wellbeing. During the study, some employees used devices or apps to track their mental health and wellbeing. It was found that these employees had more positive perceptions of their work relative to the other employees who did not take the time to reflect on their wellbeing until the end of the study. This demonstrates how organisations might consider using technology to help manage mental health issues.
Another important finding was that inclusive leadership and teamwork facilitates greater wellbeing. The study uncovered that employees who worked with specific environmental factors present – inclusion, positive team dynamics and leadership support – were far more likely to have better mental health. In other words, working in hostile, isolated settings undermines an employee’s capacity to be happy at work.
An important caveat to this research was articulated by PwC’s Chief People Officer Michael Fenlon in an interview with Forbes. He said that it is incorrect to think that by providing people with information on mental health, they will definitely use it to promote their wellbeing. Instead, it is more important to create a culture that advocates for the importance of prioritising mental health so that employees feel free to follow suit.
The mental health emergency is not an issue that can ever truly be solved. Like so many other societal issues, it is something to be mitigated and managed. As such, there will never be a point where leaders can simply say “we’ve done enough” and be content with their current system.
As we start the new decade, it is vital that executives carry the momentum of 2019 into the future. We’ve all taken huge steps in the last few years. It would be tragic to let that fall to waste by not making further advancements.
Revaluate. Refresh. Renew. Your employees will be endlessly grateful.