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Does your business have a wellness program?

SuperFriend CEO Margo Lydon reveals why Australian businesses eager to introduce a workplace wellness program need to think beyond HR. 

SuperFriend has a simple but powerful goal: to reduce the incidence of suicide and impact of mental illness on individuals and their workplaces.

The national mental health foundation focuses on creating positive, healthy and safe working environments.

"I think one of most important factors is to make sure there is genuine commitment and support from senior leaders to understand the productivity benefits and the reduction in costs, such as sickness absence," Ms Lydon told Wellness Daily. "It is also important that they understand aspects of employee engagement and wellbeing. If that sits at the top of the organisation then, by-and-large, there is a major success factor that has been ticked off, which is important for long-term sustainability."

In Australia, 51 per cent of people have left a job because of poor mental health conditions and 40 per cent of people have stayed in a job longer because the environment was mentally healthy.

Most employers who engage with SuperFriend have been making efforts to create a mentally healthy workplace. However, few understand that a successful wellness program that benefits both the business and its staff must sit across the entire organisation. 

"It is about looking at a whole business strategy and making sure it isn't just something that sits within HR, that it takes a much broader approach," Ms Lydon said. 

Wellness and mental health have traditionally fallen under the HR function, with many organisations deeming it an occupational health and safety (OH&S) issue or part of the people and culture division. 

"I do think though that there is a real shift happening within workplaces to broaden it out and to recognise that anybody in a leadership or management role has to take into consideration the health and wellbeing of their people," Ms Lydon said. 

"Setting up a wellness committee with representatives from staff across the business is a great way to bring this to life and keep it alive in an organisation," she said. 

"Volunteering or giving back to the community are also great ways of improving employee engagement."

According to the Black Dog Institute, one in five Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year. The most common mental illnesses are depressive, anxiety and substance use disorder.

While going to work is certainly no cure for mental illness, research has found that it is an important part of recovery. 

"People who have the routine of getting out of bed in the morning and doing something that has a sense of contributing to something greater than themselves, where they get that social connection created through working that ticks a lot of boxes around positive mental health - those are the sorts of things work does provide," Ms Lydon said. 

"Long-term absence causes people to feel isolated. They typically don't have the routines that work provides. They can feel disconnected from a group of people."

"If we can have more people staying at work, even if they are having a difficult time with their mental or physical health, if that is the best and most appropriate thing then that is a great recovery outcome and needs to be part of the recovery plan. 

"If they do need to step out of work due to the severity or challenging issues they deal with, then it is about helping them get back to work as soon as they can."

Staying at work: the benefits for employers

-    Reduced costs relating to lost productivity, staff training and overtime
-    Retaining valued staff expertise and skill
-    Increased speed of recovery for employees

Staying at work: the benefits for staff

-    Getting back to everyday life faster
-    Maintaining social contacts, work contributions, confidence, motivation and health 
-    Having less time on reduced income

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain