By Katrina Sullivan

It’s Monday morning and your employee has called in sick. They don’t sound unwell, and when you saw them on Friday, they seemed perfectly healthy. The next day their doctor’s certificate just says unfit for work. Can you push back and question their doctor’s certificate?

Employers need to remember that even if their employee seems healthy and injury-free, they could be suffering from something you can’t visibly see, like mental health issues.

Perhaps their workload has caught up to them and they might not be coping, they might have disagreed with a co-worker and the thought of seeing that person again is causing them anxiety, or they might be dealing with non-work-related issues at home, and they can’t bring themselves to come into work.

In this article, we discuss the psychological health of employees post-covid, what businesses can do to support their staff and the benefits of having an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place.

Mental health in the Australian workforce – a snapshot

Did you know that mental illness cost the Australian economy over $200 billion in 2020? Mental health has emerged as one of the biggest concerns for businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employers are obligated by law to provide a safe and healthy workplace. This obligation extends to both physical health and mental health. The benefits of promoting positive mental health and well-being in the workplace are vast. This can include increased staff engagement and productivity, increased job satisfaction, improved staff retention, and a decrease in sick leave days taken by your staff.

It may be as simple as letting your employee have a mental health day to rest and destress from the workplace in the short term, compared to them taking a multitude of days off because they are burnt out in the long term.

The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance is a national approach by businesses, the community, and the Government to encourage Australian workplaces to become mentally healthy for the benefit of the whole community and businesses; be they big or small. The Alliance seeks to promote the benefit of businesses taking active steps to promote and create mentally healthy workplaces.

Do you have an active EAP service to offer your employees?

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a work-based support program aimed at enhancing the emotional, mental, and psychological well-being of all employees (and can include services for immediate family members). An EAP program aims to provide interventions for the early detection/resolution of both family/personal and work-based problems that might adversely affect performance and well-being. This includes, but isn’t limited to relationship problems, depression, anxiety, addictions, financial issues, etc. In the event your employee is struggling with any work-related or home-related problems, your EAP can provide that employee with counselling services or general advice which is completely free of charge for your employee. These services are completely confidential, and you will not be privy to conversations between your employee and their EAP counsellor.

However, EAP services aren’t always a practical option for businesses as they can create excess costs that the business may not be able to afford and is not a one size fits all solution.

6 ways you can promote well-being in the workplace

Other methods your business can implement to improve mental well-being in the workplace can include:

  1. Implementing a Mental Health Policy.
  2. Having regular welfare checks with your employees.
  3. Having the contacts of free counselling providers listed somewhere accessible to the employee.
  4. Helping staff identify mental health risks.
  5. Promoting physical well-being alongside mental well-being.
  6. Creating mental well-being plans with employees involving different ways to create a healthy work environment.

If any of the information in this article has raised any questions about employee well-being or you have another workplace matter you need assistance with, please reach out to our experts via our 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service.

Katrina Sullivan is a Workplace Relations Advisor at HR Assured. She provides specialised advice and support to multiple clients regarding a wide range of workplace and employment matters. She is particularly interested in the areas of industrial law policy development and employment dispute management.