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Running a business

4 ways small businesses can foster wellbeing in the workplace

Do you have existing staff members who are collectively exhausted after the pandemic? Are you trying to cover more work than you normally would?



Martine Beaumont, Founder & CEO at Select Wellness Australia, says that collaborative overloads have placed a lot of pressure on the mind in recent years. 


The pandemic and natural disasters around the world have fed uncertainty and created the perfect mental health storm, says Beaumont. But 24/7 digital connectivity and remote working have removed the external boundaries we used to have between work and home.   


“There are so many ways we receive information and communicate – which is great. But our brains are not necessarily set up to do that and remain healthy. It's very taxing to go from one sort of communication method to another and to be constantly flicking and then having to come back,” says Beaumont.


So creating a safe and healthy workplace is essential for employee wellbeing, which in turn can have significant long-term benefits for your business. Research has found that happy employees are more engaged and feel a stronger sense of belonging towards their work.

But the reality is that it can sometimes be difficult for small business owners with limited resources to know what kind of support program they can provide to their employees. 


Why mental health in the workplace matters

On R U OK day, it is important to recognise stressors and remind ourselves to have regular and meaningful conversations to support anyone struggling with life.

Mental health struggles do not have clear signals and sometimes the signs can be different for each person. The key, says Beaumont, is to look at their contrast in behaviours, thoughts and emotionality. For example, if someone who is normally an extrovert has suddenly become withdrawn.


Research has shown that approximately 45 percent of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness at some point in their life, and that one in five Australian adults will experience a mental illness in any given year.

Poor employee mental health and stress can lead to consequences such as decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and disengaged employees. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission:


  • Australian businesses lose over $6.5 billion each year by failing to provide early intervention or treatment for employees with mental health conditions
  • An average of 3.2 days per employee are lost each year due to workplace stress
  • 25 percent of employees take time off each year for stress-related reasons

The total cost of absenteeism, presenteeism and compensation claims is estimated to be around $10.9 billion per year, according to research conducted by PwC.


With these figures in mind, taking action to support staff wellbeing isn’t just important for retaining productive, engaged employees, but also for protecting your bottom line.


PwC has also found that businesses with mental health initiatives in place earned an average of $2.30 for every dollar invested. This return was derived from a reduction in presenteeism (working while unwell), absenteeism and workers’ compensation claims. 

How to support mental health in the workplace


While every workplace is different, here are three simple ways you can support your employees’ mental health.

1.Review your current approach

Before investing in any new programs or resources, take stock of what you already do to support wellbeing in the workplace. Do you: 

  • Provide flexible working arrangements that allow your employees to effectively manage their work and personal commitments?
  • Have regular check-ins with your team to see how they’re doing, both at work and outside of work?
  • Encourage regular breaks that promote employee wellbeing and safety?
  • Provide opportunities for your employees to bond outside of work hours, such as employee lunches?
  • Recognise your employees for their work and personal achievements?
  • Offer opportunities for employee training and development?
  • Look for the warning signs of poor mental health, such as decreased employee productivity and increased sick days?
  • Prioritise your own mental health and wellbeing?


You might find you’re already doing some of these things, which is a great start. Now think about areas where you can tap into to foster employee wellbeing. Remember you don’t have to tackle everything at once – pick one or two areas to focus on at first, and keep expanding and improving your efforts as you go.

2. Lead by example


Running a small business can be incredibly rewarding. But long hours, cash flow challenges, changing industry conditions and being responsible for a workforce can all take a toll. 


One of the classic mistakes that Beaumont has seen people make is when they minimise their own experience when they're around others that are experiencing what they deem to be more.

So, take a moment to assess your own wellbeing and be self aware of your tells. For example, if you start lashing out over something minor, or feeling overwhelmed by a big work project – ask yourself if you are ok and find ways to ground yourself back.


Keep an eye out for early warning signs of burnout or changes in your behaviour, thoughts or feelings, as advised by mental health advocate Heads Up. These can be:


  • Finding it difficult to concentrate on tasks
  • Feeling tired and fatigued
  • Being unusually tearful or emotional
  • Getting angry easily or frustrated with tasks or people
  • Drinking alcohol to cope
  • Finding it hard to make decisions
  • Avoiding social situations
  • If you find that any of the above applies to you, take a step back and think about what you can do to relieve some of the pressure. This could mean leaning a bit more on your team for support, setting clearer boundaries between work time and personal time or using technology more efficiently to take care of day-to-day tasks so you can reserve your mental energy for more important tasks.

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3. Encourage your staff to take breaks

After just 90 minutes of highly intensive cognitive work, the body and the mind actually goes into that fight or flight response, says Beaumont. You might suddenly feel a bit scattered, or a bit manic, or tired. These are signs for you to take a break.  

There are four types of breaks, because not all breaks are equivalent, says Beaumont. These are: 

  • Whitespace – the space you make mentally for the ‘unstructured’. “So, you're getting that free roaming brain to be a bit more strategic and be able to plan and respond rather than just feel like you're reacting all the time,” says Beaumont. But do not use whitespace time for scrolling through emails, social media or news.  


  • Micro breaks, which relate to doing a few breathing exercises, sensory circuits or physical exercise. 
“Anything that is going to get you out of that thinking and task mode and you feel a bit more sensory. This is essential if you're going to be managing high workloads over a sustained period. Micro breaks will make a world of difference and will help protect your body and brain from being harmed,” Beaumont says.


  • Rituals, preferably sensory: You can go home and watch your favourite show after a long day, but make sure you're doing at least 15 minutes of sensory activity. This might be catching up with a friend face to face, a walk in nature, yoga or meditation.


  • Holiday: If you find that you're really getting addicted to your screens and you're ready scattered, this is the sign you need a holiday to break that habit, says Beaumont. But when you book the holiday, make sure you're not spending every day in task mode. 

Breaks are essential and help you work more efficiently and productively when you look after yourself. So, have your non-negotiables around self-care and block a time in your calendar for breaks.

4. Take advantage of free workplace mental health initiatives and resources


As a small business owner, you may have limited resources to dedicate to employees’ mental health initiatives. However, you can make small changes in the business that will in turn support your staff’s wellbeing. Such examples are: 


  • Having regular catch-ups with your team members to check in on their mental health
  • Inviting feedback from employees on ways you can better support their mental health
  • Offering flexible working arrangements so your employees can maintain their work life balance and juggle other priorities
  • Organising team activities such as weekly lunches
  • Encouraging employees to take regular breaks


Heads Up also has some fantastic free resources to help you look after your own mental health and support your employees:



Mental health in the workplace FAQs

What is workplace wellbeing?

Workplace wellbeing refers to the overall mental and physical health of employees in your workplace. This can be influenced by factors such as employees’ workloads and working conditions, their relationships with colleagues and your workplace culture.

How to improve wellbeing and mental health in the workplace

The most effective way to improve wellbeing and mental health in the workplace is to create an environment where employees:

  • Feel supported by their manager and colleagues
  • Have a reasonable workload
  • Have access to mental health resources
  • Have the flexibility to balance their work and personal lives

How to ensure employee wellbeing

Research has shown that mentally healthy employees are less likely to take time off due to job stress and more likely to be productive and loyal to the business. Other indicators of employee wellbeing include: 

  • Absenteeism (sick days)
  • Presenteeism (working while unwell)
  • Staff turnover
  • Staff productivity
  • Workers’ compensation claims

Why is employee wellbeing important?

The simple answer is that employee wellbeing promotes productivity, job satisfaction, loyalty and engagement – all of which positively impact your bottom line and help contribute to the long-term success of your small business.

Where can I access resources? 


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