Challenging the status quo on mental health

Challenging the status quo on mental health

Camille Wilson
Camille WilsonFeb 6, 2020

45% of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, and 20% have in the past 12 months. With numbers like these, it’s difficult for organisations to deny their responsibility in providing a workplace that’s mentally safe. Yet, many employers are struggling to do so.

I recently spoke at WORK180’s first EDGE (Executives Driving Gender Equality) Think Tank event of 2020 in Sydney, challenging the audience to reimagine how mental health is treated in the workplace.

As the 2017 Deloitte ‘At a tipping point?’ report acknowledged, there’s an increased responsibility on employers to create mentally safe places to work. Yet organisations are struggling to figure out how to do this – and at the necessary scale.

Over the past decade, we have seen the rise of employee wellbeing programs as a response to mental health concerns. These programs often include an employee assistance program (EAP), lifestyle support, subsidised fitness and in-house exercise classes or massages, for example.

And while these offerings can be useful in supporting the wellbeing of employees, they don’t address what might actually be causing poor mental health in the workplace. They’re often a band-aid fix to a much bigger problem.

Organisations need to get to the root cause – they need to understand how their culture, systems and environment are affecting the mental health of their employees, and fix any problem areas.

Here are three actionable steps to help turn a mental health program from a bunch of initiatives into a game-changing cultural shift:

1. Identify your problem areas

One way to identify your problem areas is to run an employee-wide survey, asking questions around mental health literacy and the factors negatively impacting mental health in the workplace. It might reveal, for example, unsafe leadership practices, workplace pressures or poorly defined roles within teams.

For a sensitive topic like mental health, sometimes a survey might not be enough to get to the truth. Therefore, another option is to run qualitative multi-disciplinary focus groups and create an in-depth feedback loop.

You should also look at any internal data, such as attrition and absenteeism rates, to identify any trends.

2. Create a strategy for change

By understanding the causes of poor mental health in your workplace, the business can then identify the key opportunities for change, and create a strategy and action plan accordingly.

For example, this could be deciding to focus on improving the disclosure process, creating a culture of safe conversations or upskilling leadership in emotional intelligence.

3. Implement change management principles

Guiding an organisation through change is never easy. To ensure your strategy is successful, and drives real and tangible change, make sure you have a change management process in place.

This should include building leadership coalition, creating a champion group and setting a vision that drives action. Then establish a clear plan to deliver the change required, specifying what actions need to be taken, who is responsible and the success measures that will track progress.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of anxiety or mental health issues, please contact your local GP. Beyond Blue also has a useful list of national help lines and websites.

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About the author

Camille Wilson

Camille Wilson

Camille is no stranger to the world of mental health. From a young age, Camille has been exposed to the severity of what mental health can impose onto an individual’s life after working through her own lived experience of severe mental illness.

Camille has studied a Bachelor in Psychology at UNSW and is part of the postgraduate program at the Brain and Mind Centre at USYD. Camille has always been fascinated by how our brains translate into our unique behaviours and thinking that affect us individually and as a collective. Alongside this, Camille has worked within human resources for several years, where she has gained insight into how we currently handle mental health in the workplace. Bringing these together, with her own lived experience of mental illness as a patient and as an employee, Camille provides a unique triage of experience that offers a perspective unlike many others.

In 2017, Camille founded Grow Together Now, a social enterprise that is driven by the mission to change the way we see mental health in Australian workplaces and schools. Camille runs perspective-changing workshops aimed at educating and training individuals on three core skills: being aware, being courageous and being real, that work to shift a workplace culture to a mentally safe place to work.

To help women find a workplace that will work for them, we prescreen employers on flexible working, pay equity, paid parental leave, and more. Find your next role on the WORK180 job board.

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