There is a unique range of complexities and challenges associated with improving mental health in the workplace. In this article, David Burroughs, Managing Director and Principal Psychologist at CommuniCorp, discusses the rise of workplace mental health issues.
Associated with the challenges of improving mental health is the increasing recognition of the importance of a psychologically safe and healthy workplace: "That is, workplaces that promote individual, team and organisational psychological wellbeing and prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to employee mental health," says Burroughs.
"This type of approach is somewhat of an evolution from traditional approaches that focus on physical wellbeing and on mental health awareness/clinical disorders, in that it focuses on psychological health from a practical, systemic and workplace-specific perspective," says Burroughs, who notes that almost every organisation is asking its people to do more with less resources, is undergoing some degree of rapid workplace change, and has staff grappling with the blurred lines between work and home life.
"Many corporates are now driving their workplace psychological health initiatives out of their OHS areas, and they are focusing on psychological risk, moving away from community-based and diagnosis-based/medicalised approaches to ones customised for the idiosyncrasies of their own workplaces, business units and job types." There is a growing appetite for outcomes to be more than just awareness or participation, but to have discernible impact on human resource metrics and business indicators, and consider the sustainability of impact, according to Burroughs.
While the whole workplace mental health area can seem incredibly complex for many organisations, he says some of the biggest challenges they face in this area is getting the right strategy in place. "We are still seeing an over-reliance on EAPs or tertiary-type approaches that kick in after an issue has arisen, rather than a genuine focus on early intervention and prevention of psychological issues and approaches that address the psychosocial factors that contribute to psychological ill-health," says Burroughs.
"For many organisations, there is still a misguided sense that having an EAP in place, or doing R U OK? Day, or participating in Mental Health Week is all that's required. While R U OK? Day/Mental Health Week are great ideas and can be an incredible opportunity for launching more strategic initiatives, by themselves they are generally not sufficient to make a sustainable impact on workplace psychological health."
Many organisations grapple with the issue of how to move beyond awareness-raising to build real workplace mental health capabilities and how to build and implement practical solutions to complex workplace mental health issues, when much of the information is of an academic or community mental health nature, he says. "Of course, getting executive buy-in for adopting a more strategic, evidence-based initiative still remains a challenge," says Burroughs
It is critical that organisations understand the "business case" for developing mental health, as it applies to their organisation, according to Burroughs. "There is no 'one size fits all' when it comes to workplace mental health - some organisations want to contain workers compensation costs, others want to ensure WHS compliance, others want to improve customer outcomes, drive productivity, reduce absenteeism and presenteeism, while others want to be an employer of choice," he says.
Defining what you want to achieve is important, as it helps guide the approach taken and helps define the metrics/measures you would use to help evaluate the success of the initiatives being put in place."
Understanding the psychosocial priority areas of an organisation is also a key part of the process. This can be done by having a closer look at existing HR metrics - such as absenteeism, psychological injury rates and so on - and identifying "hot spots", running targeted focus groups; alternatively, deploying one of the many psychosocial risk assessment tools now on the market, some of which are free to use. "In reality, though, all you need to do is ask most internal HR/WHS team members which business units are most under pressure, or look at the roles with the most uncertainty and change or scrutiny and you will often have a good indication of where your priority areas are," says Burroughs.
It is also important that organisations have a look at what they have done already, what resources they have in place, what psychological health-related policies and procedures they have already and how effective they are. "No one wants to reinvent the wheel. Most organisations have some psychological health-related infrastructure in place, and especially in times of limited budgets, it is important to build on what is already in place," he says.
If an organisation implements practical initiatives to develop the psychological health and safety of their workplace, there are a number of benefits that can be realised, says Burroughs. "this can include improved productivity, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, reduced number of psychological injuries, greater engagement from employees, reduced bullying/harassment grievances, and improved teamwork and interpersonal relationships. Of course, it also relies on organisations capturing these metrics before and after initiatives, and on an ongoing basis.
"From research done to date, there are estimates of an ROI figure of upwards of 15, with greater benefits documented for smaller business. However, similar results would most likely be seen at team or business unit levels for larger organisations, should initiatives target the psychological health needs of the organisation at these discrete levels. With increased capability of people leaders and WHS/HR leaders, it is also more likely that opportunities for intervention and proactive management of psychological health issues are undertaken, and the outcome is likely to be far better than if no action had been taken. Through identifying and acting upon psychosocial risks impacting on their workplace, organisations will also be far better equipped to prevent psychological injury or illness, thereby supporting and building the psychological health and safety of their workplace."
This article first appeared in OHS Professional magazine, a Safety Institute of Australia publication. www.sia.org.au
"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: