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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