Why businesses should put wellness first at work
From enhancing the ability to cope during critical situations through to boosting productivity, a focus on mentally healthy practices within the workplace drives positive results across all fields.

We investigate why smart managers are putting wellness at work on the agenda and the strategies they employ

Why wellness in the workplace?

In 2014, Beyond Blue and PWC conducted research into the impact of mentally unhealthy workplaces. The report found 6 million days of lost productivity were recorded in Australia annually from depression alone.

The same researchers found for each dollar invested in wellness programs saw an average return of $2.30 in productivity.

“Many of the strategies that promote wellness also prevent stress and the onset of mental health conditions. Increasing an employee’s control is one key example,” explained Nick Arvantis, Head of Workplace Research and Resources at Beyond Blue.

“This can be achieved by giving employees a say in how they do their work or manage their time. We know long working hours puts people at risk of stress, burnout and developing a mental health condition. They are also less productive and more likely to leave an organisation. Promoting work-life balance benefits employees and the organisation in the long run.”

Below are some of the ways Australian organisations are promoting mentally healthy workplaces to their advantage.

Cottoning on to wellness

Fashion brand Cotton On has grown to 1300 stores across 19 countries and the company has increased its profits by 20% a year for the last five years.

At the heart of Cotton On’s success is a focus on creating a mentally healthy workplace. The rationale is simple.

“If our employees are at their best, so is the company. We want people to leave better than when they came in. To Cotton On, a mentally healthy workplace means that people are more energised physically, emotionally and intellectually,” explained Health and Wellbeing Manager, Luke McLean.

Cotton On approaches their wellness strategies by recognising that individuals want different outcomes from their working life.

“Staff can choose what programs, if any, they participate in. While we don’t have any direct measurements, the staff members that participate in programs stay longer. Through our in-house surveys, we know they have a higher level of energy and resilience,” shared McLean.

The kinds of changes that make an impact are often small yet powerful.

Cotton On provides free fruit to staff, they hold walking meetings to encourage exercise and there are boundaries around out-of-hours communication to protect work-life balance. Flexible working arrangements are also available and mindfulness is encouraged to lower stress and build resilience. The social responsibility that is the hallmark of the Cotton On brand permeates throughout the internal culture.

For any managers looking to revitalise their workplace, McLean had this advice.

“Focus on culture. The culture should be supportive, provide opportunity and demonstrate compassion and caring.”

When wellness is mission critical

Bronnie Mackintosh is a Training Officer with Fire and Rescue NSW and won the 2015 Churchill Memorial Trust for her commitment to improving female participation in the service.

Fire and Rescue NSW has a strong focus on working conditions. Rosters are designed to support lifestyle. Workers receive generous leave entitlements and fitness is a priority through gym access, sport and even yoga and mindfulness programs.

But it’s not only the conditions that support wellness.

“Meals help build camaraderie. We bring firefighters from other stations over for BBQs and touch football. At our stationhouse, we have morning tea and do the quizzes together. If we have the opportunity to spend time together, it helps us trust one another when we need it the most.”

However, the road to wellness hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Fire and Rescue NSW.

“Part of the current focus we see on mental health is a result of our previously high male suicide rate. We’ve learnt you’ve got to debrief when you do this sort of work,” Mackintosh said.

“We’re also better trained to spot the warning signs in ourselves and the people we work with. We have a 50/50 split in gender recruitment, which helps support community work and remove the alpha-male mythology. Changing the culture to be inclusive is not without its stress. But it’s something that teaches us to employ healthier coping strategies,” explained Mackintosh.

By empowering the workforce to remain connected, Fire and Rescue NSW build a proactive community approach to wellness.

Be the change you want to see

All agree that it’s not only managers that drive the change - managers also need support.

By investing in managers and helping them to facilitate good team support, the culture improves. When you’ve got managers and staff performing at their best, it makes the organisation more resilient, proactive and a better place to be.

For more information on creating a mentally healthy workplace, head to Beyond Blue’s national workplace program.