What's the link between flexible working and mental health?

This week is mental health week. Many of us are familiar with the statistics: according to beyondblue, 45% of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with the most common of these being depression and anxiety. 

This translates to real costs, not only for individuals experiencing mental illness (and those close to them), but also for Australian organisations through losses in productivity, increases in absenteeism and presenteeism, and compensation claims. Overall, untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year.

So what are the steps that organisations and managers in particular, can take to support employee wellbeing?  Flexible working is often suggested as a tool for organisations seeking to develop a mentally healthy workplace. Research conducted by Diversity Inclusion with an Australia-wide consulting firm examined the relationship between factors of employee wellbeing (such as self-reported stress) and uptake of flexible work arrangements. We found that employees, who perceived their managers to be supportive of flexible work arrangements, reported lower levels of stress and burnout, compared with employees who perceived their managers to not be supportive in this way.

I’ve put together a few quick tips for how managers can demonstrate their support for flexible working. (See our previous blog ‘the other side of the gender pay gap’ for more information on flexible working and mental health.)

  1. Encourage managers and senior leaders to role-model flexible working to the team, hence visibly showing that they too make use of the organisation’s flexible work policies. Examples include letting the team know when they leave the office to pick up their kids from school or to head to the gym. This role-modelling can have a real impact on the team’s likelihood to do the same.
  2. Ask managers who are on-board to encourage other managers and senior leaders to similarly role-model flexible working. Managers could discuss the benefits of flexible working for organisations and the arrangements they have observed which have benefitted their team (along with the challenges they might have experienced).
  3. Encourage managers to have open discussions with each member of their team, to arrange something that works for them, the employee and the organisation. And remember, flexible working can benefit all employees, not just those with young children!


What strategies do you know for promoting flexible working? Please leave us a comment.

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