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mental health

October is Mental Health Month. Even if you are not one of the approximately 45% of Australians who will suffer from a mental health problem at some stage, you are bound to know somebody who does – very likely including a colleague.

Work is becoming ever more complex and demanding. The scope, scale and speed of businesses is constantly accelerating, as and IBM study in late 2015 found. Over 5000 executives in 70 countries reported that work was always busy, and at times frenetic, and related this to technological disruption and radically different business models as business becomes more competitive.

It’s no wonder that the World Health Organization describes stress as the ‘global health epidemic of the 21st century.’ Three-quarters of us report feeling moderately to highly stressed by work, according to a Global Corporate Challenge survey of over 4,500 companies, and 36% of employees said they felt ‘highly or extremely stressed at work’.

Mental Health Month is the ideal time for organisations to focus attention on this problem. Talking about mental health issues is a great way to start, so if your organisation has not put it on the agenda, make this the month you do so. It’s proven to lower health care costs, absenteeism and turnover, and leads to higher productivity. PwC research in 2014 calculated that programs that fostered resilience and a mentally healthy workplace returned $2.30 for every dollar spent.

Mental health organisation Wellness at Work is offering an online program, which they describe as ‘an easy and inexpensive way for people to build the fundamental skills for facing mental health challenges at work, without needing to disclose their challenges to anyone at work if they don’t wish to.’ The program runs all month, with both paid and free options for participating.

Here’s a taste of what the program has to offer.

How to move from functioning to flourishing at work & in life

Positive psychology expert Michelle McQuaid  presents this talk about how a growing body of evidence is finding that there are small, practical, excuse-proof steps you can take to improve your chances of consistently flourishing.

Managing work intensity – how to maintain your wellbeing in a fast-paced workplace

This one acknowledges that work can become too busy and too intense. Psychologist Nicole Plotkin will share some simple strategies for staying calm, managing your stress and keeping a clear head – even when there’s chaos all around you.

This one looks like a winner: Difficult people made easy: how to handle challenging interpersonal situations at work.

Hear Eleanor Shakiba, author of Difficult People Made Easy explain three simple tools for handling toxic team dynamics, challenging customer behaviours or emotionally fraught conversations.

Psychologist, bullying expert, author and speaker Evelyn Field OAM  talks about Understanding workplace bullying… and how to deal with it. Hear why it occurs, the damage it causes to employees and organisations, and what employees, managers and organisations can do to prevent bullying and manage it respectfully when it occurs.

Also from Wellness at Work is How to build resilience to job burnout. Adele Sinclair explains that burnout is a distinct condition, different to stress and exhaustion. In this talk, Adele will share what she has learned from her own multiple experiences of job burnout and how you can protect yourself from having similar experiences.

See the full program at http://wellnessatwork.com.au/expo-fr-lounge/

Of course there are many ways to learn and grow your awareness of mental health issues at work. There are many websites, books and apps that can help with stress, particularly those that present structured approaches to mindfulness.  Read Fully Present: The Art, Science and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston, or Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Danny Penman and Mark Williams. Useful apps include Headspace and Simple Habit. Find more on the Dummies website.

The challenge is to go further than this, argues Carlo Caponecchia, Senior Lecturer in the School of Aviation at UNSW. He writes on The Conversation that ‘Workplaces need to move beyond promoting mental health awareness and start changing the way work is designed to prevent psychological harm… By all means raise awareness, support people, and show them where to get further help. But re-design a policy, consult about new supervision practices, challenge a long-held cultural belief, and maybe everyone’s mental health at work will improve just a little.’


mental health

ADD and a working Man

By Dan Hartman

ADHD/ADD is an attention deficit disorder characterised by impulsiveness, poor attention span, distractibility, restlessness and overactivity. It affects somewhere between five and 10 per cent of children, and symptoms usually become milder in adulthood. You almost definitely work with somebody with the disorder. I’ve developed strategies to manage my ADHD. In fact, I believe this ‘disorder’ has certain advantages, such as enhanced energy and creativity.

I was diagnosed with ADHD relatively late, at the age of 17, although I displayed symptoms for many years. While I never had major behavioural issues, I’ve struggled with my attention in both the academic and professional areas. Although it manifests itself in the form of personality quirks and behavioural traits, it does not negatively affect my work.

So what can you do to manage this condition at work? Here are four things that work for me.

First, play to your strengths. I know that I am not well suited to detail-oriented work, so I stopped studying accounting at university. I work in sales, where I am constantly exposed to dynamic, novel scenarios. I talk to clients about unique challenges and learning new things every day. And for a person with ADD, these types of tasks are much easier to focus the attention on.

Next, when I have to complete more static tasks like writing a business case, I use the Pomodoro Technique. This involves breaking work up into blocks of time – typically 25 minutes – and taking timed breaks of three to five minutes in between. Turn off notifications on computers or smartphones. The breaks can be used to check notifications, get a drink, have a chat, or perform any of the other activities the ADHD impulses are screaming out for. After four blocks, take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes. It is worth experimenting with different intervals of working time and break time in order to find what works best for you.

Over the last year I’ve noticed significant improvement in the management of my ADHD by becoming more aware of my thoughts and when I am distracted. I developed this awareness through mindfulness meditation. Though initially I found the idea of meditation strange (I’m not some new-age hippie!), I discovered that mindfulness meditation is essentially a mind exercise and doesn’t involve any incense, humming or wearing of robes. Mindfulness meditation allows you to become a spectator to your thoughts, which is very important to someone whose mind is constantly racing and jumping from idea to idea. I found the Headspace app to be a great starting point for learning mindfulness.

And finally, it helps to be in a supportive environment. What can managers do to help staff with ADHD? First, be compassionate. If someone on your team mentions their ADHD to you, it’s not just casual conversation. They have thought hard about whether to mention it at all, and most likely they want you to help manage it. They will be sensitive about the issue – traditional systems of education and employment may have put this person in some very challenging situations. At the same time, don’t be afraid to delve deeper and ask what you can do to help. It may be as simple as allowing them to use non-traditional working methods (like the Pomodoro Technique), or enabling a low-distraction workspace. Ask whether they’re comfortable sharing their diagnosis with others, then help facilitate whatever choice they make.

Living with ADHD does not need to be difficult. In fact, it can be a welcome quirk on the path to a fulfilling life and a productive career. All it takes is to ‘know thyself’ and strategise accordingly.

Dan Hartman is a salesperson working in the technology area who loves to write. You can read his story about coping with ADD here.

mental health

By Alison Hill

October is Mental Health Month, when we are all encouraged to think about our own mental health as well as the mental health of those around us. Given that we spend an average of 40 per cent of our time at work, mental health in the workplace is clearly important. As a result of spending so much time together, our colleagues may know us better than anyone else, and we may be best placed to support them.

Beyondblue has published these astonishing statistics about mental health at work in Australia.

  • One in five people will be experiencing a mental health condition at any one time
  • Six million working days are lost each year as a result of untreated depression
  • Untreated mental ill-health costs the Australian economy $10.9 billion each year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.

During October, make it your priority to focus on mental health. Start by becoming more aware of the issues. The ABC’s ‘Mental As…’ initiative is presenting television programs, radio shows and podcasts about mental health issues, and has a dedicated website. Being more aware of mental health conditions and how they affect people is an important first step in getting rid of the stigma attached to mental illness. The most prevalent mental illnesses in our community are depression and anxiety. Start by informing yourself about them.

Unfortunately, the workplace itself can put mental health at risk. Research by beyondblue and others has shown that these factors make mental illness more likely:

  • Long hours and/or shift work
  • Fly-in/fly out work arrangements
  • Demanding deadlines and targets
  • A heavy workload
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Lack of appropriate recognition and reward
  • High emotional or intellectual demands
  • Poorly managed change
  • A low level of control over tasks and responsibilities (see our last blog post about job crafting)
  • Bullying and discrimination

It’s up to everybody in the workplace to create a mentally healthy workplace. Heads Up, a mental health organisation dedicated to giving individuals and businesses free tools and resources to take action, recommends that we:

  • increase awareness of people’s responsibilities relating to mental health
  • reduce stigma
  • build the skills and confidence to approach someone who may be experiencing difficulties
  • encourage staff with mental health conditions to seek treatment and support early
  • support staff with mental health conditions to stay at or return to work
  • monitor and manage workloads
  • increase input into how people do their work
  • prevent bullying and discrimination

Research by professional services firm PwC has shown that for every dollar spent to create a mentally healthy workplace, the return is $2.30. That seems like a good investment.

For the rest of October, Challenge Consulting will focus on resources that will help you to create a mentally healthy workplace.  Here are two to get you started: