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How to cultivate a mentally healthy workplace for your team

Project Alfred
November 11, 2021

Big businesses often have big budgets – and even entire departments – dedicated to looking after their employees’ wellbeing. As a small business, we were curious about what businesses like ours can do to cultivate a mentally healthy work environment, so we asked Tim Hoopmann, Beyond Blue keynote speaker and a workplace mental health advocate, for his top tips.

Liam McNamara is the co-founder of accounting firm Project Alfred and is passionate about supporting small businesses, streamlining accounting technology and making financial literacy accessible to everyone.

In part one of our conversation with Tim Hoopmann, an entrepreneur and workplace mental health advocate, we explored how small business owners can look after their mental health and manage their stress levels. Now in part two, we’re diving into how small business owners can support their employees by implementing a Workplace Wellbeing Plan and being authentic role models for prioritising mental health. 

Owning a small business comes with many responsibilities. If you have employees, protecting their health and safety at work is critical, and an extension of this is providing a mentally healthy environment for them to work in. It’s incredibly important for individuals to take ownership of their own mental wellbeing, however employers can play a valuable role in helping to ensure they provide a work environment that authentically supports their team.  

Here are five things Tim Hoopman suggests that small businesses can do:

A profile photo of Tim Hoopmann with an iPad.
Tip #1: Make mental health a key part of your businesses and establish a Workplace Wellbeing Plan

One way that small businesses can reduce the stigma around mental health and to encourage people prioritise looking after their own mental health is to establish a Workplace Wellbeing Plan

Tim believes it’s time that mental health is a key part of businesses, explaining: “When we put mental health as a key part of our business plan, show leadership around better mental health, and when we’re happy to have a discussion about mental health, what we do is provide a really safe environment for everybody to come to work, perform and feel safe.” 

A Workplace Wellbeing Plan involves six steps:

  1. Setting up a leadership group and involve a small group of employees to assist with developing and implementing the plan
  2. Identifying the needs of the business by looking at historical data and anecdotal evidence about how the business is performing when it comes to employee wellbeing
  3. Identifying risks and potential improvements that will enhance the wellbeing of employees
  4. Establishing actions to address these risks and enhance employee wellbeing 
  5. Supporting staff with mental health conditions, respecting any requests for privacy
  6. Monitoring actions to work out what’s working and what needs some adjustments

Click here to download Beyond Blue/Heads Up’s Workplace Wellbeing Plan to get started – it includes plenty of tips about what information you need and links to other helpful resources.

Tip #2: Encourage your employees to create their own Personal Wellbeing Plan

In part one of our conversation with Tim, we talked about how it’s a smart move for small business owners to create a Personal Wellbeing Plan to help them track and manage their own mental health. One way that employers can authentically support their team is to encourage them to do this for themselves – and share that they’ve done it too (remember, the more people speak openly about mental health, the less stigma will surround the topic and the sooner people seek help if they need it).

A Personal Wellbeing Plan allows employees to understand what their triggers are that cause them stress (at work and in their personal lives) and what they can do to help combat these. Authentically encouraging people to create their own plan demonstrates clear leadership on the topic of mental health, and as Tim says, “It may feel like a tricky subject, but people's lives are really important and they help make a successful business, so how about we make sure that everybody’s happy?”

Two co-workers smile and laugh at each other.
Tip #3: Make sure people have a good job

Let’s be honest, not every job is a “fun job”. However, there are ways that small business owners can make sure their employees have a “good job”.

  • Make sure people have clearly defined accountabilities, aka, a clear – and accurate – job description
  • Consider how you can make work a fun environment, or how you can make things light at times
  • Have conversations with employees (and make it okay for others to also) about things that aren’t about work – especially if you’ve got teams working remotely
Tip #4: Lead by example

A key way that business owners can create a great work environment is to lead by example when it comes to taking actions to take care of their mental health, whether that’s being flexible with working hours, or making sure that they feel open to discussing the manageability of their workload. 

If a business owner tells their team that they encourage work boundaries (whether those be to do with work hours or workload), but is always sending emails late at night or always saying yes to projects that create unrealistic deadlines, it not only puts pressure on employees, but also dilutes the authenticity of any message that you value prioritising mental health.

Tim acknowledges how difficult this is for small business owners: “It’s very difficult to say no, because we all want to do the right thing by people. Often you get backlash when you say no, but it’s important to have those boundaries and be clear about how you operate. If you’re authentic around that, that’s how you lead your team.”

Tip #5: Think about how you can actually add value to your employees’ wellbeing

If you want to implement any wellbeing initiatives in your business, try and avoid being tokenistic (if your employees haven’t asked for bean bags or table tennis, they may not actually value them). As part of your Workplace Wellbeing Plan, perhaps you consult employees on what they want, rather than dictating it. 

Tim says that something he’s seen many businesses do effectively is giving employees time off annually to volunteer, saying that, “They might do the volunteering as a team or they may choose to let employees volunteer for any cause they’re passionate about, and they go off and spend some time doing that, whether it’s a day off a year, or something else.” 

Also be aware that some “perks” sound great on paper, but can also send a mixed message. For example, paying for breakfast, dinner, and even accommodation (yes some of those big Silicon Valley tech firms now do this!) sounds generous, but can create a culture of unhealthy extended work pressure, or attach additional stress or “handcuffs” to someone’s job. 

Your business might not have the budget for additional wellbeing initiatives, and that’s absolutely fine. As Tim says: “I don’t think a business owner can be fully responsible for anybody’s mental health, but what they can do is provide a great environment, they can be supportive of it.”  

Importantly, that includes making sure employees know that support is there if they’re struggling, and keeping an eye out for changes in people’s behaviour, as sometimes it’s easier to spot triggers in other people than it is for them to see it in themselves. ​​Check in with people you’re concerned about, for example if you notice that someone isn’t present in meetings, or if they haven’t been in the office lately, don’t be afraid to ask them how they’re going. Tim points out that, “You might just do it at the right time to help them more than you can imagine.”

If you’re interested in more tips for small business owners, subscribe to the Project Alfred newsletter. For more information on how you can create a mentally healthy workplace, or if you need support, visit the Beyond Blue website.

A profile photo of Tim Hoopmann.

Tim Hoopmann is an experienced business growth expert with a demonstrated flair for scalability who is a recognised speaker for Beyond BlueHead here to visit his website to learn more about Tim and what he does.

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