How often do we, as managers and executives, ask about the health and wellbeing of our employees and truly listen to the response? With the average paid working week for Australians at nearly 35 hours, and a significant proportion of this time spent in the company of our colleagues, how much do we really know about their wellbeing at work?

As business leaders, we have a vital role to play when it comes to the health of our employees. Not just ensuring they are physically fit to do the task but, more importantly, that they also feel well mentally.

Mental illness affects one in five Australians every year, with the most common types being depression and anxiety. It is one of the leading causes of absence, sickness and long-term work incapacity in Australia, with an estimated economic impact of A$12 billion per year.

But what of the human cost? Not only does poor mental health impact an individual; it can impact those caring for and supporting them while also managing their own home and work responsibilities.

While it may not be easy to initiate conversations around mental health, we have a duty to ensure the wellbeing of our employees, and ensure that there are mechanisms in place to support our staff.

The first step is letting your staff know that it is okay to not be okay 100 per cent of the time. This can be as simple as starting a conversation and offering your personal support.

Your organisation can also advocate for staff to use sick days or take additional days off work to address mental health challenges. Endorsing ‘doona days’, which give employees time off to relieve stress, can be an effective way to help address issues, and help extend the conversation across the organisation to reduce stigmas associated with mental health.

Small changes in language, behaviour and the work environment can go a long way to fostering a positive environment of workplace wellbeing, as well as partnering with or providing access to mental health support groups such as the Black Dog Institute, Lifeline, or beyondblue.

By providing a collaborative environment in which to address mental health issues, we can open up more conversations in the workplace and the wider business community. By breaking down barriers, we can ensure we are doing more to help to help our employees achieve workplace wellbeing, and provide better support mechanisms for employees in need.