A mental wellbeing policy demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to its people.
It should be comprehensive, including education, guidelines and procedures, and active support.
A clear and effective workplace mental wellbeing policy is a commitment to promoting and monitoring mental health at work. It reflects good practice and leadership in the organisation, and gives employees confidence their workplace is concerned about their wellbeing and will support them.
Developing your policy
Think about these aspects when developing your mental wellbeing policy.
Be explicit about the terms used. You may want to use the World Health Organization's definition of mental health in setting the document's scope:
“Mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
Get support for the policy from senior management and their commitment to model the policy’s behaviours.
Involve and consult staff in the policy development.
Specifically engage people who have experienced, or are experiencing, mental wellbeing problems, and any wellbeing champions.
Ensure the policy is for everyone – everyone experiences mental health in one form or another and can benefit from the support of a good policy.
Make sure the policy is in plain English and, if necessary, translated into other languages.
Be clear about who the policy applies to – it might just be for employees, but it could also cover contractors and even customers.
Revise the policy on a regular basis, as information about mental health in the workplace is being supported by a fast-growing body of research and development.
Ensure compliance is monitored and there are consequences for breaches. An annual mental wellbeing audit can help you monitor the policy.
What to include
Your policy should include how employees in distress will be supported, how your organisation will promote wellbeing and a mentally healthy culture and climate.
How to get support early if struggling with a mental health problem.
What return-to-work support is provided for people who have been away from work with a mental health problem.
How employee performance is managed, including making reasonable accommodations and setting boundaries.
How the organisation identifies chronic stress or fatigue in its employees.
That the organisation provides support following the suicide or attempted suicide of an employee.
Provision of basic training and information for line managers on the effects of common mental illnesses, helpful responses and suicide prevention.
How the organisation commits to maintaining a positive emotional climate (cultivating and expressing positive emotions).
What kinds of education and awareness initiatives are provided that educate employees on mental health and wellbeing.
How the organisation ensures effective communication based on trust, respect and civility.
Zero tolerance of bullying or harassment.
Intentions towards a culture of collaborative teamwork.
Diversity and inclusion - how your workplace engages the strengths of a diverse workforce.
A policy is just a piece of paper unless it’s complemented by action plans, which are put into place.
Actions might include the following:
Procedures and consequences for dealing with incidents of discrimination, bullying, harassment and/or rudeness.
Human resources practices and procedures that support mental wellbeing and people who are experiencing mental health difficulties (eg offering flexible working arrangements where possible)
Ways to improve mental wellbeing through:
appointing a mental wellbeing officer or leader
in-house training on maximising mental wellbeing/resilience and dealing positively with mental health challenges
organising wellbeing activities
communicating mental health and wellbeing messages.
The next step is to make sure everyone knows about the policy and what actions will be taken to support mental wellbeing, so good communication is key.
For more help: Further ideas on how to develop an action plan can be found at Heads Up Australia, which uses a step-by-step approach similar to usual business planning practices.
See the Like Minds, Like Mine website for guidance in creating a workplace that doesn't discriminate against people with experience of mental illness or distress.