Matthew Steers’ Women in Business breakfast tackles mental health and wellbeing in the workplace
From humble beginnings five years ago, Matthews Steers’ quarterly Women in Business (WIB) breakfast has now evolved into a leading event on the calendars of many inspiring women across Melbourne.
With this most recent instalment held at Hyatt Place the day after RUOK Day, the group of inspiring women from wide-ranging industries and companies, spoke openly and candidly about mental health issues which they have faced both personally and within their respective workplaces.
Mental health does not discriminate, with 20% of Australians aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness in any year*. The broad scope of the term also means that it does not just stop with individuals suffering from depression, but also encompasses anxiety disorders, substance abuse, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders and trauma-related disorders.
So what does this mean for business?
Mental illness is prevalent and can be debilitating, not only for the individual experiencing it, but also – sometimes – for those around them. This can be particularly true in the workplace where colleagues can experience the knock-on effect of seeing someone struggling.They may feel frustrated at not being able to help, and may find themselves taking on an increased workload due to their colleague’s loss of productivity.
With many of the WIB attendees holding executive and managerial roles, the focus firstly turned to strategies and techniques business owners and managers can adopt to help ease the burden of mental illness in the work environment.
First and foremost, all agreed that ‘planning for change’ was critical which meant including this in an ongoing business plan. As one attendee noted, a business plan “isn’t legislation” and therefore is meant to evolve according to your business’s needs. From a managerial perspective, this means having contingency plans in place to help aid with things like workflow and productivity should an unexpected mental health issue arise with an employee.
Building a safe environment is also paramount to fostering the mental wellbeing of your employees. This strategy has become even more common in recent years thanks to powerful initiatives like RUOK Day because they promote self awareness and confidence, and empower people to talk about their mental health struggles without judgement.
Attendee Rae Bonney, who is a prominent workplace wellbeing specialist and mental health advocate, shared a story for those who are unsure of what to say to someone who is struggling, or what the ‘right’ thing to say is.
“A woman asked me what it felt like being me and it was the first time in my life that someone was asking me what it feels like rather than ‘what I’ve got, when am I going to recover, what medication I’m on…’ It was the most inspiring moment of my life,” said Rae.
Ultimately though it is important for a business and manager to acknowledge that while they care deeply for their staff, they are generally not trained mental health professionals, and they will not be able to ‘fix’ problems quickly.
“You can’t expect to solve a big issue in a day. It’s a journey,” said Rae.
While a business and manager can certainly adopt strategies to help an individual – and have a duty of care to do so – it is important to recognise that the onus should not – and does not – fall solely on the business and management team.
Rae explained that it is important for an individual to develop a ‘ self management plan’ by asking themselves these three questions:
What are my challenges/struggles?
What can I do to help myself?
How do I enable myself to carry help myself?
“This enables the person to manage, and shifts the accountability from the organisation,” said Bonney. “We’re all responsible for our own health.”
Placing focus on individual accountability and personal responsibility can also help promote resilience.
“Quite often we don’t reflect on what we have got through... Instead sit in these rooms or these forums trying to learn how to ‘be’ (resilient), not recognising the resilience we already have and drawing on that.” Rae said.
In the workplace it is about identifying and “managing multiple people with different levels of resilience” said Matthews Steer General Manager and Director Catherine Duncan.
When it comes to building and maintaining a strong mental foundation, Catherine also touched on the importance of both employees and employers acknowledging and savouring their successes.
“We’re always too quick to go from one goal to the next. We should take time to stop and celebrate each win and acknowledge it to ourselves,” said Catherine.
“I love going to an AFL game because of the massive ups/downs – and the roar of success when a team kicks a goal. That’s what keeps us pumping our fists and moving forward.”
Taking many valuable lessons from the morning, all this month’s WIB attendees agreed that, as managers and key players of their chosen business, they all can work towards changing the narrative when it comes to mental health in the workplace.
Asmall step now that will undoubtedly have a huge impact in the future.
If you’re interested in attending Matthews Steer’s Women in Business events please email email@example.com