Current estimates indicate that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year, the bulk of which is comprised of productivity loss due to absenteeism and presenteeism.¹ With the financial and social implications clear, many organisations are now turning to their Human Resources and Work Health & Safety teams to identify and implement relevant strategies that can help to address the risks and opportunities associated with Workplace Psychological Health & Safety. Optus is one such organisation.
What issues was Optus facing in terms of workplace mental health?
Like many organisations Optus had delivered to their staff basic “awareness raising” programs, but were not able to identify any tangible results in return. It became apparent that Optus needed to do more in this space not only to manage these risks, but to empower their employees to respond effectively to psychological hazards in the workplace.
Optus recognised that a much more considered, strategic, evidence-based, workplace-specific approach was required – with an emphasis on early intervention and prevention, and the workplace systems and environment that influence psychological wellbeing. Megan Kingham, Manager Workplace Health says “While awareness programs have their place they should not be stand-alone. As with all wellbeing programs Optus recognises the need to address both individual behaviour and the working environment. There is no point raising awareness of mental health issues and then expecting people to work in mentally unhealthy workplaces.”
With concerns around the efficacy of the traditional ‘awareness’ programs on offer within the market, Optus turned to CommuniCorp to deliver a bespoke solution. Geoff Hoad, Director Workplace Health & Safety said CommuniCorp was able to help us develop a strategy that is the foundation of how we manage psychological risk at Optus.
What has been done so far?
After securing the critical senior leader sponsorship for the strategy, Optus began implementing the CommuniCorp “Psychologically Safe & Healthy Workplaces Framework”. The framework encourages organisations to not only focus on the key psychological safety factors that are part of an organisations’ legal and compliance responsibilities, but builds on these as foundations to implement policies, practices, systems and initiatives that maximise the potential for positive psychological health and wellbeing. Key initial steps in the Optus Healthy Minds strategy were:
- Updating Work Health and Safety policies to reflect a focus on psychological health and safety;
- Developing a Psychosocial risk register that sits within the WHS risk registers across the business,including a thorough list of psychosocial hazards known to potentially cause psychological harm or injury and how they might present in the workplace specific to Optus.WHS representatives then customised this register to each specific business unit, recognising the different impacts that the psychosocial hazards might have on the particular work areas and the nature of the work undertaken across the different units. These new risk registers then allowed consistent reporting and data collection across different business units;
- HR and WHS personnel were identified as a priority for training given that they are considered internal experts on managing psychological concerns/injury/illness and felt that presently there was a gap in this knowledge base. Full day training sessions with all Optus HR and WHS personnel were undertaken, with a focus on increasing their knowledge, confidence and capabilities for identifying, intervening, managing and preventing psychological health concerns at Optus.
What have been the results?
“Healthy Minds is an ongoing initiative for which baseline measures have been achieved, and which should provide a comparison for ongoing measures. In particular, investigating the impact on psychological injury rates, grievance complaints, and safety issues will be used as indicators,” says Kingham
Metrics indicate a number of key improvements for the HR and WHS personnel as a result of the training:
- Confidence discussing mental health issues in the workplace – 19% increase (66% to 85%)
- Confidence intervening if a colleague shows signs of distress at work – 18% increase (68% to 86%)
- Knowledge of where to go and how to access internal support resources –19% increase (74% to 93%)
- Confidence in capability for what to do and not to do to support someone at work with a mental illness – 29% increase (54% to 83%)
Typically the benefits derived from workplace psychological health initiatives take the form of reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and lower numbers in compensation claims. Statistics point to a positive return on investment of a $3 return for every $2 spent on successful actions.¹
Kingham says “whilst we are in the first stage of implementing the Healthy Minds Strategy at Optus, all indications are that there will be substantial return to the organisation.”
"We’re extremely pleased with the results from the first phase of our Workplace Psychological Health & Safety strategy. All indicators point to greater confidence within the WHS and HR teams when addressing these psychological health and safety issues and we are keen to see these skills developed more broadly within Optus. The next priority in terms of a capability gap identified is the people leaders" says Megan Kingham, Manager Workplace Health.
Optus WHS are assisting all business units to undertake training for all people leaders, which takes the form of a full day training session focusing on the identification, intervention, management and prevention of psychological injury and illness for individual team members as well as the psychosocial safety of broader teams. Training is customised to business units, to reflect the day-to-day work scenarios faced by leaders across the different work areas. A big focus is on practical training elements, ensuring that Optus people leaders genuinely develop greater confidence and capability in relation to psychological health in the workplace.
“This is an emerging trend and increasingly important. We will continue to expand our skills and knowledge in order to create a work environment that supports our people,” says Hoad.
1. “Creating a mentally healthy workplace | Return on investment analysis” PwC March 2014
"The role of work-life boundaries and mindfulness in a psychologically safe and healthy work environment"
During June CommuniCorp is hosting a series of Senior Executive Business Forums entitled "The role of work-life boundaries and mindfulness in a psychologically safe and healthy work environment". These 2 hour breakfast forums hosted in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane will be free of charge for eligible senior HR/WHS executives from large (300+ FTE staff) government and commercially focused organisations. To ensure a genuine peer based learning environment, attendance is limited to those directly responsible for developing and implementing practical strategies for workplace psychological health.
Led by leading corporate psychology expert, Dr Chris Stevens, these senior executive forums will take a candid look at the complex issues around work-life boundaries and the rise of workplace mindfulness in the corporate world. They will not only address the business case/benefits of developing capabilities in these domains, but also look at dispelling the myths surrounding these concepts, practical considerations around organisational readiness, critical success factors as well as how to maximise your program effectiveness in these areas.
Register your interest to attend, and receive additional information regarding these sessions:
Phone 1300 855 140