Working Well

From massages in the meeting rooms to the ubiquitous standing desk; wellness at work is not a new conversation. But sadly there is still more that could be said. Cora Lydon looks at how PAs can improve their mental resilience and stay sane under pressure.

Don’t have a wellness program at work?
Many companies – large and small – have a wellness program in place for their employees. But if yours is one of the companies that doesn’t here’s how you can help put one in place:
1 Most importantly you need to find out what other staff want: if you implement yoga in the boardroom once a week will people attend? Or are they more likely to take up the offer of a piece of free fruit? While some may appreciate a ‘time-out’ corner complete with colouring in books and aromatherapy scents others may like to take their wellness out of the office and be able to visit off-site practitioners to keep calm.
2 Remember any wellness program should be an optional extra for staff not another requirement of the job. Make sure everyone is aware of what services and facilities they can access as part of it, but leave them to make their own choice as to whether they do so.
3 Above all else you need to make sure that what you put in place is well managed, accessible to all and is evaluated regularly. Don’t just put practices in place because it’s the thing to do. Monitor sickness levels and productivity levels to see if the program is actively making a difference.

WITH ABSENTEEISM costing Australian businesses an estimated $7billion every year it’s understandable that more companies are ensuring they’re looking after their staff’s physical health. But what about the other side of the coin – a workforce’s emotional
and mental wellbeing? According to the State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report, at any given time one in five employees is experiencing a mental health condition – now take a look around the office and count how many people there are to give you an idea of the scale of the problem. It’s believed that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime; with depression and anxiety being the most common, and people most likely to be affected during their prime working years. There’s no outward sign that you’re suffering yet they can be as debilitating as a serious physical illness, and unlike a physical condition, less than half of those who are suffering seek any help.

These hidden mental health issues could really be holding back a significant proportion of the workforce, yet while around 90 per cent of employees believe mental health is an important issue to be tackled in the workplace, only half say their own workplace is an emotionally healthy place to be.

The good news is that a 2014 report from Buck Consultants found that nearly half (47%) of Australian-based companies offer some form of health promotion service to staff. The bad news – that’s still a lot of employees who don’t have the support of their employee in making positive changes. And the pay off is not just for the workers – it’s a win-win situation when managed correctly, as the organisation stands to gain a more engaged and productive workforce. A global study carried out by Right Management found that organisation performance rose 2.5 times when health and wellness was well managed. But when it wasn’t managed well performance decreased by 3.5 times and the business was four times more likely to lose their talent over the course of the following year.

Of course taking care of your mental health isn’t just about taking part in your organisation’s wellness scheme it’s also about taking control of your wellbeing yourself – and those around you. Here’s how EAs can help shape the future of workplace wellness.

BUILD STRONG TEAMS: Real wellness at work comes from being part of a team that is supportive, shares your goals, trusts each other and enables everyone to carry out their role to the best of their ability. Think about how you can build strong, trusting partnerships at every level of the workforce. Suggest to the boss you plan more team building sessions, work socials or create more sociable areas in the office. Consider too, recognising people’s achievements no matter how small to ensure they feel valued.

MANAGE WORKLOADS: Make sure you understand your core responsibilities as an EA – before you agree to take on additional projects or tasks make sure you have adequate time to manage the workload you’re being paid to do. Delegation is key – when crazy deadlines or last minute projects threaten to squash your spirit call on your peers to lend a hand. Share extra workloads using individuals’ strengths and then when it’s all over celebrate with pizza in the office or a night out.

LOVE YOUR JOB: Happiness at work and contentment in your role is also a key part of staying mentally well. Indeed, latest research published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, has found that having a poor-quality job – one that is boring, below your skill level or is unstable – can be worse for your wellbeing and overall health than being unemployed. According to Peter Butterworth, the study’s author: “Those who moved into optimal jobs showed significant improvement in mental health compared to those who remained unemployed. Those respondents who moved into poor-quality jobs showed a significant worsening in their mental health compared to those who remained unemployed.”

RECOGNISE THE STRUGGLE: You need to recognise in yourself and others when you’re feeling overwhelmed and react to it. This can be done partly through the building of strong teams who are comfortable to let others know when they need help. You could also develop a mentoring service where people have someone they can talk to about issues in confidence, and develop ways of handling pressure. Or instigate a buddy system – pair people up in order that they can support each other, act as the go-between if someone is panicked about talking with the boss about their mental state and just generally keep an eye out for each other. You’re more likely to spot when someone’s behaviour changes or mood seems to sink if you’ve got to know them well.

NORMALISE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES: Too often it’s considered a topic that is off limits, people are ashamed to admit if their emotions are frayed or their spirit is low. More needs to be done to create a supportive and open work culture around the topic to break down barriers. Some of this needs to come from the top with business leaders discussing with their staff how the company can support mental health issues and making sure that any initiatives are well publicised, and through embedding the topic in future training programmes and inductions.

You could nominate mental health ambassadors who will support any wellness schemes – even better if they have their own story to share about how they manage stress, anxiety or other issues and are willing to share it. You can also develop a schedule of events and initiatives that are designed to support you and your peers. This may be access to a counselor when needed; the ability to work from home some days; planning ‘walking’ meetings instead of booking the boardroom and ensuring all staff have access to fresh fruit, fresh air and a pleasant relaxing area for breaks.