Mental health days are not frowned upon at Sydney content marketing and public relations agency Filtered Media.
“By policy, we offer YOLO [you only live once] days,” says co-owner Heather Jones. “It’s two paid days per year to take at your whim, either when the sun is shining too brightly for you to bear being anywhere but the beach, or the clouds are hovering so thickly in your own mental space you need to stay in bed with the curtains drawn.”
Jones has lived with depression herself and so has embedded mental health care into the culture and policies of the business, which employs 30 staff and turns over more than $3 million a year.
“In the last two weeks alone, I’ve initiated ‘are you OK?’ one on one conversations with two staff members who didn’t seem themselves,” says Jones. “Flags to me were them seeming distracted, more lethargic than usual, less attention to detail than usual, less willing to engage in team activities than usual.”
The mental health generational gap
Staff at Filtered Media are not alone in taking mental health days, with research published on Wednesday by Finder.com.au estimating 3.74 million Australians used at least one day of their sick leave for mental health or stress in the past 12 months.
There is a generational gap, with four times as many Generation Y workers (at 44 per cent) using their sick leave for a mental health day in the last year compared to only 11 per cent of working baby boomers.
Female workers (32 per cent) were more likely than men (29 per cent) to take days off for stress.
Graham Cooke, insights manager at Finder, says anxiety and stress clearly have a huge impact on Australian workplaces, and mental health affects every industry in Australia in some way.
“Employers are in a unique position to help employees with their mental health,” he says. “From encouraging flexible working arrangements to providing free counselling services there are many ways to address the mental health of their workers.”
Looking after yourself as well
Filtered Media’s focus on mental health has already proved to be useful after the business organised training in mental health first aid for its general manager.
In the last two weeks alone, I’ve initiated ‘are you ok?’ one on one conversations with two staff members who didn’t seem themselves.
This came into play when a young woman fell to her death in the laneway next to Filtered Media’s office and left her partner standing on an apartment ledge threatening to jump himself.
“Knowing how such an event can be a mental health trigger we immediately rang every team member as early as possible during normal morning commute time to advise them of the situation, and advise they were welcome to work from home if the situation was too distressing,” Jones says. “Some staff came in anyway then found it more difficult to focus than expected so took up our offer to work from home.”
A follow-up email was sent acknowledging the situation and connecting people to various mental health and internal resources.
But Jones says the hardest thing as a small business owner is remembering to look after yourself as well as your staff.
“You definitely have to make an intentional effort to do that,” she says. “As a small business owner and parent of four children between managing family life and demands of a fast-growing business if I don’t carve out time for myself I’m no use to anyone. By policy and personal example, I believe we’re shifting the expectations of the workplace as being a safe place for those with mental health challenges to own their unique take on the world, and play to their strengths within their own boundaries.”
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This piece by Cara Waters was first seen on ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ 1 November 2017.