Including whether or not Workplaces should mandate that all employees undergo Mental Health First Aid training to ensure workplace safety.
Should workplace mental health training be mandatory? After all, Mental Health wasn’t the topic of conversations prior to the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak. Now it is the hot topic with employers and staff alike. Will this help ensure workplace safety?
Managers are starting to see examples of ‘mental health’ is being used as an excuse by some staff. In order to not take any personal responsibility for unfinished work or failed deadline achievement. Other staff are using it as an opportunity to blame anyone or anything else for their poor behaviour. This includes emotional outbursts, not turning up for work, bad manners or just general ‘poor form’ in the workplace.
Managers are juggling last minute staff absenteeism. As well as, staff leaving early, coming in late, or perhaps requesting unrealistic amounts of time off, usually in busy periods. Meanwhile, remaining staff are seriously impacted by this. Placing further pressure on their own workloads and deadlines. In turn, increasing their own workplace stressors and the risk of developing mental health issues themselves. This is not a good example of workplace safety.
This article does NOT in any way dismiss or downplay those genuinely struggling with mental health issues or illness.
It also is not minimising the serious impact mental health issues have on all aspects of a persons life.
Instead it is seeking to provide genuine debate. A discussion of the benefits and potential pitfalls of mandating mental health training for all employees. It is seeking a way forward so that organisations, business owners and managers. So that they can identify early and support staff with genuine mental health issues or illness. This in turn will ensure workplace safety.
Ultimately, developing a culture that will reduce staff turnover and burnout. Whilst ensuring they are not just ‘legally compliant,’ instead utilising ‘best practice’ and workplace safety.
In addition, it is seeking to support staff towards becoming responsible for their own professional conduct. Meanwhile, providing them with a structured suite of skills and information. This, so that they can build resilience, practice self-care and ultimately participate more fully in their workplace.
Four Benefits of Mandating Mental Health Training
Firstly, the benefit of mandating mental health training means that it puts the topic firmly on the agenda of staff meetings and discussions in the workplace. It also provides an standardised language and terminology that can be used by managers and staff to ensure clear communication around mental health issues.
Secondly, another benefit is that mental health training improves knowledge around the various causes and serious impacts mental health issues and illness can have on an individual. Further to this, it explores secondary effects of mental health issues on a person, such as poor personal relationships, poor self-esteem, potential job loss, and even homelessness. This in turn, can reduce stigma in the workplace and amongst individuals. Further improving workplace culture and safety.
Thirdly, mental health training gives individuals the tools they need to identify the signs and symptoms of developing mental health issues. It then supports either themselves or others into seeking early intervention and professional help. Early intervention and support has been proven by research to be the best way to prevent long-term problems. Drastically reducing the risk of other effects such as suicidal thoughts, or self-harm.
Finally, the benefit of mandatory mental health training to workplaces and organisations is that it ensures fully compliant workplace practices.
Employee Assistance Programs
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are expensive for businesses. They are, for the most part, underutilised, and often misunderstood by staff. Managers routinely hand out the EAP contact to staff that disclose ‘mental health’ issues believing they have done their job, and achieved their legal compliance. They should instead actively seek creative and supportive mechanisms to genuinely support these staff. Mental Health Training would enable them to do this. Workplace safety should include not only physical but also mental safety.
Mandatory mental health training would provide genuine workplace compliance and at the same time, create a culture of trust.
Four Problems of Mandating Mental Health Training
Firstly, anyone undertaking training with a poor attitude will not have the same quality of learning outcomes as someone who is learning willingly. Managers can address this during the interview process with a series of carefully worded questions. This ensures new staff are fully aware of culture and expectations in a workplace. Developing and building trusting relationships with staff is key. Genuinely valuing mental health by ongoing training and practices by managers will further improve attitudes in staff.
Secondly, cost factors. Managers by necessity, are budget driven. The cost of mandatory Mental Health Training for everyone in a workplace could prevent it being undertaken. If you consider that the cost of replacing an employee can be a minimum of $22 000 in Australia, up to $60 000 or more. This includes interviewing, advertising, training and reduced productivity while the new staff member gets familiar with systems and the job. If mandatory mental health training reduces staff turnover, then the savings could fast outweigh the expenditure to a business or organisation.
Thirdly, time ‘lost’ at the workplace for people to undertake training. Let’s reframe this as an investment rather than a ‘loss.’ Considering the above-mentioned cost factors of staff turnover, it is a short-term loss, for a long-term gain which needs to be fully understood and valued.
Finally, the availability of quality trainers, training, and which training program to choose? It has been said there are trainers, and there are trainers. This is true. Some trainers lack the life-experience or ability to relate to their audience. Some trainers are lost in ‘techno-speak’ and jargon. They lack the personality, passion or sensitivity to engage their students and ensure they actually learn what they are meant to.
How to choose the right mental health program for workplace safety
- Choose training that is Nationally Recognised and Accredited. The Standard Mental Health First Aid Training is an example of this.
- Choose training that is offered by a local instructor. Heather Smith of Step by Step Training offers this course in Toowoomba.
There are instructors in many places all over Australia. You can find them here.
In conclusion, employers are responsible for providing safe workplaces. They also have a legal obligation to make available a support system such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Further training in Mental Health First Aid rolled out across all levels of your workplaces will ensure that it becomes the Gold Standard of best practice in achieving compliance and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Mental Health Support.
While attitude is everything, leaders can do a lot to build a trusting and positive workplace by practicing the skills learned in a Mental Health First Aid Course, and in turn roll out this training for their staff which means everyone has the skills they need to identify mental health issues early, and support each other to getting the professional help they need.
Ultimately, this will change the way workplaces think about mental health. It will reduce excuses around ‘mental health’ and enable genuine conversations to support everyone alike. Workplace stress can be drastically reduced, and everyone will benefit from improved morale and participation in self-responsibility.