Telum Vox Pop: Mental Health Month 2022

Telum Vox Pop: Mental Health Month 2022

October saw a focus on Mental Health in both Australia and New Zealand. As the month draws to a close, we wanted to shine the light on mental health in the workplace, and got some insights from our friends at Shed PR, SANE Australia, Select Wellness and Mental Health Foundation New Zealand:

Burnout is something many people in the industry have experienced over the past year or so. How does your company work to help prevent burnout in team members, and how do you support those who have experienced it?

Celia Harding, Founder/Director, Shed PR
Some ways to help prevent burnout include: not looking at your phone for the first 15 minutes of the day; meditation practice to calm the mind; setting clear personal boundaries between office and home; working flexibly and scheduling emails to arrive in recipients' inboxes during office hours; and taking a break from the news on holiday.

Jessica Kaaden, Director of People and Communications, SANE Australia
The last few years have been tough for many Australians and as a national mental health non-profit and service provider, our staff certainly haven’t been immune from the threat of burnout. SANE firmly believes in supporting workplace psychological health and safety and supporting people with a lived experience of mental health at work but prioritising staff wellbeing doesn’t happen naturally.

We’ve taken a very proactive approach to ensure people and their wellbeing are at the heart of everything we do. From a formal Work Health Safety System perspective, we’ve chosen to use a nationally validated psychosocial risk assessment survey tool to identify psychological workplace hazards that can contribute to burnout and negatively impact mental health. Through this survey, staff anonymously answer questions about hazards and contributing factors. SANE then works through this information, in consultation with staff and the Health and Safety Committee, to improve our practices to make our workplace safer for everyone, and reduce risk of burnout.

All SANE staff have an individual wellbeing plan in place that identifies warning signs and proactive strategies for maintaining wellbeing. Aspects of these are shared within teams where possible to enable staff to support each other.

At a more informal level, we’ve implemented a number of day-to-day activities that reinforce our focus on wellbeing. As an example, SANE meetings typically start with a quick wellbeing check-in where individuals can score their wellbeing on a 1-5 scale and identify what support they may need.

We are proud of how our managers and leaders have committed to purposefully supporting staff wellbeing and this was recently reinforced by a CultureAmp engagement survey showing 98 per cent of SANE staff felt confident that their manager genuinely cared about their wellbeing.

Mental Health Foundation New Zealand
While some stress helps us to be productive, too much long-term stress can lead to burnout and ill health. When our stress response is turned on repeatedly, it puts unnecessary strain on our bodies and impacts our ability to think.

Do something about it: If you notice changes in someone’s behaviour, thinking, feelings or reactions, ask them ‘how are you, really?’ and listen. Review your team’s allocated work tasks, individual needs, social environment, workplace relationships and organisational culture.

Now that we are back in the office, what in person practices can be put in place to ensure the mental health of employees?

Celia Harding:
  • Making time for one-to-one catch-ups with team members to not only understand what pressures they might be under from a professional perspective but any external factors which may have an impact on their wellbeing
  • Build a supportive nurturing culture, in which team members feel comfortable enough to raise concerns
  • Lead by example when it comes to taking breaks, holidays and unavoidable out-of-hours communication
  • Allocate time, resources, and budget to workplace wellness initiatives, working collaboratively with team members and wellness experts to identify what people need and would be of most benefit
Jessica Kaaden: 
SANE has a hybrid model of work - most staff members work some days in the office, and some days at home. While working from home can have positive impacts, it can also lead to loneliness and a feeling of disconnection from colleagues. SANE has found that scheduling in more frequent 1:1 check-ins, as well as offering hybrid / remote social opportunities, has helped. For example, we get together virtually to do trivia, and we run mindfulness sessions and mental health check-ins. We also organise in-person collaboration days, where whole teams are in the office together to do creative team-work. Making people feel included - no matter where they are working from - is essential to supporting mental health.

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand:
The Five Ways to Wellbeing are simple and proven actions that workplaces can introduce to help their people find balance:
Connect with the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Keep learning, try something new, rediscover an old interest. Take on a new responsibility at work. Be active, go for a walk or run, step outside, garden, play a game. Give. Do something nice for a teammate, thank someone, volunteer your time. Take notice. Remark on the unusual, notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment.

Martine Beaumont from Select Wellness shared her thoughts on recognising, managing and preventing burnout:

How to recognise burnout symptoms in yourself and others:
  • Loss of motivation
  • Constantly exhausted
  • More cynical and resentful
  • Feeling detached from job and others
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Brain fog - reduced performance at work - difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep difficulties, in particular waking up and struggling to get back to sleep
  • Reaching for that glass of wine or junk food to get through the day
  • Increase in self-doubt feeling less able in life and at work
How to raise concerns about burning out:
  • Manage your own fears first, before you raise your concerns with your leader and peers. There is no shame in raising burnout. In fact, you might give someone else the courage to do the same. You are in good company - according to the latest Mckinsey survey, 61 per cent of Australian employees report they are feeling at least somewhat burnout right now.
  • Reframe raising burnout as being the right thing to do not only for you but also for your team’s wellbeing and performance.
  • If you are worried your leader is going to ask you to just push through, pre-empt this by talking about what the different parts of you are thinking and feeling about how to manage your burnout, i.e., a part of me wants to just push through what I am feeling now and deal with it when I have to, and another part of me is concerned that pushing through rather than looking after myself might push me to somewhere I am going to find it hard to come back from.
  • Go into a discussion about burnout with some tangible ideas about what support will work for you rather than allowing your leader to make this decision for you.
How to prevent and better manage burnout:
  • Acknowledge it and acknowledge that you need help - it is not something you can just push yourself through.
  • Let people know - boss, peers, team, families, friends - so they don’t personalise your behaviours.
  • Prioritise self-care - pick two self-care activities and make them non-negotiables.
  • Better boundaries - ruthless diary management and start saying no to anything that you can.
  • Little steps - don’t become overwhelmed with working on your wellbeing.
  • Choose one thing at a time and take small steps towards changing it.
  • Need to slowly work on repairing damage from operating in fight or flight for so long. Regular 6-7-8 breathing is good for repair and engaging in activities that engage your senses.
  • Focus back on your relationships.
  • Take more breaks during your workday and ensure they are spent in sensory activities rather than on screens. Sit and feel the sun on your face, shut your eyes and listen to what's around you.
What can organisations do to better manage the risk of burnout in their employees/workplace?
  • Burnout leave
  • Equip their leaders to understand how to model and encourage sustainable and healthy work practices
  • Communicate regularly about the dangers of burnout
  • Provide preventative wellbeing coaching in addition to crisis EAP support
  • Reward sustainable work practices such as taking leave and taking breaks at work
  • Set clear protocols around out-of-office communications
  • Set healthy protocols around meeting culture
  • Consult their people on what currently contributes most to their risk

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