Dr Robert Holmes says it's time to destigmatise mental health issues in the workplace so that employees can feel safe enough to say "I'm not coping"
Whatever happened to Aussie resilience? I remember a time when a bloke cutting timber nicked himself and stopped the bleeding with electrical tape. It wasn’t so long ago that my wife delivered our seventh child unaided and unmedicated, like all the births before it. Have we become less resilient, less tough, less strong or is it something else?
Stress is the opposite of resilience. Tough times come, harsh events hammer us and we cannot maintain our strength in the face of it. We are worn down. Or if we have not changed, then our environment must have. I make this assumption because stress is now the number one claim in the health insurance industry, costing twice as much as back injuries.
Our working hours are up year on year. The Australia Institute believes that Australians work the highest number of hours in the developed world. The pace of change is relentless. We must be in a state of continual learning to just stand still.
Maybe neither we nor our environment have changed. Perhaps medical science and public attitude have finally caught up with the truth – we were this stressed out all along – only now it’s OK to admit it. Yes, I think that might be closer to the truth. I think Australians are just as resilient now as ever before, but it’s OK to admit when we’re not coping. At least I hope that’s true.
A recent study by Curtin University found that in the face of a disaster, 72% of the population bounces back quickly (within a week). By disaster they mean a 9/11, or a tsunami, or an earthquake. When I first saw that number I was shocked. A full three quarters of us just ‘bounce back’. Boom. Another 18% take several months to recover. But overall, there you have it, 90% of us have resilience. While just a sliver of the population struggle more permanently with recovering, that is they are traumatised, the statistics are showing that the stressed are taking time off from work.
One of the most helpful things a workplace can do is destigmatise mental health issues. It’s time we recognised mental health is just as vital as physical health, and it is okay to recognise you’re not coping. Of course I’m not legitimising taking a sickie if your motive is to grab a long weekend and go fishing. But the truly stressed must learn to decompress, and the workplace must help employees to do this.
About the author
Dr Robert Holmes is the people and change consulting lead at RSM Australia. RSM is a full service national accounting and advisory firm delivering expert corporate financial and advisory accounting services to clients across diverse industry sectors. Its one-firm structure means clients can more readily connect to its extensive national and international networks, expertise and industry experience. Nationally RSM has 29 offices, combined with over 90 years’ experience. Its network spans across 120 countries and comprises 763 offices.