When thinking about workplace health and safety we often think of physical health: safe lifting, removal of trip hazards and adhering to operating procedures. This can be particularly true of industries such as agriculture, forestry and fishing where we can immediately identify potential safety risks. However, one aspect of workplace health and safety that is often overlooked is mental health. Not only is mental health just as important as physical health, it is also a legal requirement for employers to take reasonable steps to minimise or eliminate workplace risks to mental health, no matter the size or industry.
Workplace mental health has become a priority for many businesses over recent years, with a recognition that employee wellbeing helps with engagement, productivity, retention and the overall success of a business. This shift has mainly occurred in medium and large-sized businesses, leaving behind small businesses without human resource departments or employee assistance programs. However, small business owners and sole traders experience symptoms of depression and anxiety at higher rates than the general population due to the unique business stressors they face. These include factors such as feeling obligated to work when sick, financial stress and managing multiple responsibilities. Small business owners therefore need workplace mental health strategies to help improve their own wellbeing at work.
There are many different types of small businesses, but small businesses in agriculture, forestry and fishing employ the largest proportion of people of all industries in Australia when compared to medium and large businesses. Due to the nature of this work, the majority of these small businesses are located in rural and remote areas. In addition to the regular stressors related to running a business, agribusiness owners face a variety of unique challenges such as adverse weather events, pest and disease outbreaks, and difficulty finding employees in rural locations.
Living in a rural or remote location brings its own challenges, like difficulty accessing mental health services and isolation. The rate of suicide in rural Australia is higher than that of metropolitan areas and the suicide rate for Australia’s agricultural community, particularly among men, is double the general population. Resources need to be created specifically for this population, to help support positive mental health and take a proactive approach to wellbeing, helping build the skills needed to face these inevitable workplace challenges. Just as rural agribusiness owners plan for droughts or bushfires, they should also plan for wellbeing.
Everymind is working with rural agribusiness owners to create tailored resources through the Rural Agribusiness Wellbeing Project. The first stage of consultation has been completed, with a short survey being administered to over 50 agribusiness owners. Findings show that rural agribusiness owners are most likely to look online for mental health support, and that their top business stressor is adverse weather events. We are currently developing a tailored wellbeing plan based on the survey results, to help rural agribusiness owners take a proactive approach to wellbeing. Once completed, we will be looking for agribusiness owners to provide feedback to ensure the plan is useful and relevant. We will also be creating a video series with real agribusiness owners to accompany this wellbeing plan and help bring the voice of lived experience. It is hoped that this short, easy-to-use tool will help put the steps in place to improve mental health both inside and outside of the workplace. The plan will be made available at aheadforbusiness.org.au.
Please register your interest if you wish to provide feedback on the wellbeing plan or get involved with the video series.