Regional resource kit
Regional and remote businesses face unique challenges that impact workplace mental health, and just like physical safety, looking after worker psychological health is important. When your regional workplace is mentally healthy, it benefits not only your workers and your business, but also helps support the wellbeing of your community.
This resource kit has tailored advice and resources for regional businesses to promote, manage and support mental health at work.
Free workshops for regional businesses
Learn about psychosocial hazards and how to manage them at the SafeWork NSW Regional Roadshow.
SafeWork NSW inspectors will demonstrate real examples of hazards and provide practical advice and strategies that you can apply in your workplace.
The roadshow is being held at 10 regional NSW locations throughout October and November.
- There are simple actions that business owners and leaders can take towards creating a mentally healthy workplace no matter the region, size or industry.
- A mentally healthy workplace can help manage the unique challenges of a regional workplace, such as natural disasters, financial uncertainty, limited access to support services, staff isolation, and staff retention.
- A mentally healthy workplace can help increase worker productivity and create a more engaged workforce.
What does a mentally healthy workplace look like in regional NSW?
Whether it’s a cafe on the north coast, or a farm in the west, a mentally healthy workplace is where everyone feels supported, accepted, and empowered at work.
Everyone has a role to play looking after their own mental health and creating a mentally healthy workplace. However, creating this environment starts from the top. In a mentally healthy workplace, the leaders:
actively and continually promote wellbeing through healthy behaviours and habits
speak openly about mental health in the workplace to reduce stigma and help others feel comfortable to speak up
identify and manage risks to mental health through safe work practices and the maintenance of a positive and inclusive workplace culture
support the recovery of a worker experiencing mental ill-health.
For regional owner/operators and sole traders, looking after your mental health is critical to being a good business leader. Putting in place simple wellbeing systems and sticking to them can reduce the risk of suffering excessive stress and burnout.
For free, confidential and personal support to learn skills with managing stress, visit Beyond Blue's NewAccess for Small Business Owners.
Need help making your business mentally healthy?
Our coaches are available to learn about your business and talk you through how to make changes in your workplace.
Why a regional business should be mentally healthy
A mentally healthy workplace ensures that workers are physically and mentally safe when they are at work. According to the NSW Small Business Commissioner survey, over 60% of small businesses in regional and rural NSW indicated that mental health or stress for themselves or their staff is a concern for their business.
In regional communities, mental health and wellbeing is often seen as a personal issue that should be kept away from the workplace. Workers experiencing physical or mental ill-health may need support at work, no matter where the injury or illness occurred. A mentally healthy workplace can help your business:
Meet your legal requirements
Employers or business owners have legal requirements under work health and safety (WHS) laws to provide a healthy and safe workplace. These laws cover both physical and mental health and safety.
Attract and retain great staff
Labour shortages are a major issue in regional NSW. Research from the Swinburne University of Technology and Deloitte Australia shows that 93% of workers say their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing is just as important as pay.
By creating a mentally healthy workplace, your business will look more attractive in a competitive job market and help you retain the staff you have.
Improve business performance and reduce financial pressures
For every $1 spent to improve mental health at work, you can achieve returns of up to $4, through improved productivity and savings from reduced workers compensation claims.
Increase its community reputation and competitive advantage
In small towns, people talk. A great workplace culture helps create engaged workers, leading to great customer service which can improve your bottom line.
Be a community leader by promoting good mental health in your business.
Prevention is better than cure. One of the strengths of regional and remote businesses is working together and helping a mate in need. Challenges like natural disasters and economic downturns often lead to worker stress, a sense of helplessness and burnout.
Regional businesses help form the backbone of many communities and play an important role in people’s daily lives. By proactively and openly discussing trauma and offering support services, it will help your business and workers recover.
How to manage factors that cause mental ill-health
Regional workplaces face unique challenges that can increase the risk of work-related stress and impact mental health.
Learn more about what these factors are and what you can do to protect your workers.
Access to support services
Poor service access, distance, cost, and continued reluctance to seek help contribute to higher levels of mental illness in regional and remote NSW.
As a result, workers, especially on the frontline, such as police and paramedics, as well as business support services, such as accountants and allied health professionals, can unintentionally become mental health support systems.
What you can do
Regularly promote support services that are available to your workers. These could include:
Signing up to an employee assistance program that provides social and psychological support. If an employee assistance program is not available, there are many free support services you can access. Share these with your team, so they know where to go if they need support.
Providing mental health training for workers so they can support their colleagues, customers and community.
If a worker is experiencing mental ill-health, acknowledge it. Knowing that you see them, that you respect their privacy and that they have your support can be the motivation they need to seek help.
If someone is recovering from a work-related injury or illness, you have an obligation to support their return to work. Make sure you are aware of how to do this.
Employees who stay connected to work during their recovery are much more likely to remain employed. Read the research on this topic.
Separating work and home life
Remote or isolated work impacts farmers, transport workers, traveling reps and fly in fly out workers (FIFO). These workers often live where they work and are unable to ‘switch off’ for long periods of time.
In small communities, a ‘fishbowl effect’ often occurs where GPs, social workers and other service providers have professional and personal relationships with customers/clients. This can create professional and ethical problems that may lead to work-related stress.
What you can do
Establish and maintain frequent communication with remote and isolated workers, so they feel supported and connected to their peers.
Encourage workers to communicate with their families on a regular basis.
Manage the risks associated with remote or isolated work to provide a system of work that ensures effective communication with remote workers.
Create boundaries like talking about work only during business hours and schedule downtime for rest and recovery.
Create clear guidelines and code of ethics for interactions with clients and customers outside of the workplace.
Discuss issues with your staff so they can recognise and are equipped to manage the challenges of client and customer boundaries.
Consult with peers in similar situations to gain an objective viewpoint and address any ethical issues that may arise.
Just like managing physical WHS, create and implement a written mental health policy to manage risks and help everyone understand expectations.
Labour and skill shortages in regional NSW can put extra pressure on business owners and workers to ‘pick up the slack’, leading to psychological hazards such as work overload, excessive demands, lack of role clarity and a lack of flexibility.
Inadequate resourcing can lead to lower engagement and can have a negative impact on workers’ mental health.
What you can do
- Keep staff involved and informed of changes to workload, and provide opportunities for open and honest feedback.
- Create clear job descriptions and continuously communicate expectations with your workers. Continue to monitor workload and where possible, support flexible work.
- Identify workplace risk factors such as fatigue, challenges in accessing services or unfair work practices. Put in place controls to reduce or remove these risks.
- Consider how everyone’s work is set up and what simple changes you could make to manage risk factors impacting workplace mental health. For example, if people are on a roster, are the shifts rotated enough? Are staff suitably trained or experienced for their tasks? Are you regularly checking in with your workers when workloads and conditions change? Be up to date with Safe Work Australia’s 10 principles of good work design.
- Recognise and reward good performance to help build a positive culture. This can be achieved through career development, training opportunities, certificates of achievement or awards. Even a simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way.
Different industries in regional areas face peaks in workload throughout the year. This increased demand can lead to business owners and leaders experiencing higher levels of pressure and stress which can affect performance.
Seasonal workers are more likely to experience depression due to stressors such as high levels of uncertainty, constant change in their work schedules and adapting to new environments.
What you can do
Plan ahead to get the right support and resources early. Recruiting casuals early can reduce stress and provide more time for all employees to understand their capacities and expectations. This will also give you enough time to brief new staff on their WHS obligations.
Look out for risks such as high workloads or job demands, remote or isolated work, lack of support or unfair work practices. Our Code of Practice provides you with practical advice, case studies and templates you can use in your regional workplace.
Leaders need to recognise and provide support to anyone facing increased workloads, isolation, loneliness, financial or family stress. Employers should ensure staff have access to the right information, support services and opportunities to discuss their concerns.
Build your culture and provide opportunities to connect as a group. Creating a sense of community helps maintain an open and positive environment where staff feel supported and are able to seek help early.
Exposure to disasters, work-related violence and other traumatic events can increase the risk of stress and psychological injury such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The impact of traumatic experiences can come from a single distressing event, or from the cumulative impact of many events over time, including direct or indirect exposure.
What you can do
Have processes in place to prepare for and manage traumatic events so workers can be supported from the earliest opportunity.
- Make sure supervisors are supported and have the skills to have conversations about mental health.
- If you notice someone at work doesn’t seem to be coping, or has been affected by a traumatic event, you can help by providing advice and encourage them to access available workplace support services, or seek assistance from a counsellor, psychologist or their preferred General Practitioner (GP).
- For further advice, the SafeWork NSW traumatic events management plan is a practical document that assists workplaces to respond to and manage traumatic events.
Alcohol and other drug use
Studies have shown that alcohol consumption is significantly higher in regional and remote areas of Australia when compared to major cities.
Employers have an obligation to make sure that their workers are fit for work. Anyone unfit for work due to alcohol and other drugs can put themselves and other people in the workplace at risk of serious harm.
What you can do
- Make workers aware of the risks to their own and others’ health and safety to encourage an alcohol- and drug-free workplace.
- Develop a formal drug and alcohol policy in consultation with your workers and make it clear to all workers what behaviour is acceptable. See SafeWork NSW’s guide to creating a workplace drug and alcohol policy.
- If you suspect someone is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at work, follow the relevant procedures in the policy, even if this puts you in an uncomfortable position. Do not feel that you have ‘dobbed in a mate’; you are looking out for them and everyone else at work.
- If relevant to your industry, conduct regular tests for alcohol and illicit substances, particularly if a worker could kill or seriously injure themselves or someone else.
- Support and maintain confidentiality for workers that may be struggling with alcohol or substance abuse or return a positive result.
- Support healthy habits and initiatives such as Dry July. Avoid providing alcohol and offer a range of non-alcoholic beverages at workplace events and functions.
- For more advice on drug and alcohol in the workplace, visit SafeWork NSW.
Managing mental health in your regional workplace doesn’t need to be a costly or time-consuming process. You can make a significant difference by using step-by-step advice to create a mentally healthy workplace.
Give your team the tools to thrive. Our workplace mental health training courses are easy to do and take just a couple of hours. The free interactive workshops are designed for managers, workers and employers and are provided by experts from the Black Dog Institute.
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