Do you have a mentally healthy workplace? Here’s how to find out

mentalhealth_andrewjohnstonDid you know that poor mental health costs organisations in Australia close to $11 billion dollars each year in lost productivity?

For not-for-profit organisations, having a mentally healthy workplace is about more than dollars and cents, though. It’s about looking after the people who are making a real difference in our communities.

At this year’s NFP People Conference, Andrew Johnston from beyondblue will be talking about the Heads Up program and how NFPs can move towards a more mentally healthy workplace. Here’s a sneak peek of what Andrew will be sharing:

Where does your interest in the NFP sector come from?

I came out of the commercial world with a desire to do my bit for a couple of years before going back and making lots of money.  But, what I found really got under my skin and now I’ve been working in the NFP sector for 17 years.

As a father, my kids pay attention to the decisions I make so the work that I do informs their worldview. The appreciation they have for what I do has meant that I’ve stuck it out and have no plans to go anywhere else.

You’ll be attending the NFP People Conference later this year discussing mentally healthy workplaces. Why are mentally healthy workplaces so important?

On a humanistic level, of course, it’s the right thing to do, but there are also economic benefits for organisations.

Given that poor mental health in the workplace is costing Australia $11 billion per annum through absenteeism, compensation claims etc. and, if you overlay that with 2,500 deaths by suicide each year, 65,000 known attempts, over 2 million Australians living with anxiety and 1 million with depression annually, you can see there is a really significant problem at play.

We recently commissioned Price Waterhouse Coopers to conduct research on the value of investment in creating a mentally health workplace and found that across all industry areas there is a $2.30 return on investment for every dollar invested in mental health, so it also makes good business sense.

What are the main challenges that not-for-profit organisations face in trying to improve how they deal with mental health in the workplace?

The types of people who work for not-for-profits are often different to those that you find elsewhere. They are often believers in the cause – they are issues-driven, highly motivated and want to put their efforts behind something that is personally meaningful.

The upside is that you find passionate committed workforces but then you often have people that are so dedicated they are their own worst enemy. They will almost martyr themselves for the cause and wear their 14 or 15 hour workdays as a badge of pride.

It often doesn’t matter what sort of narrative you try to develop in the organisation around mental health, people will still have a propensity to do it.

Tell us about the Heads Up campaign

Heads Up is an initiative of a group of organisations called the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance made of 13 organisations and agencies spanning Government, peak business groups and specialist agencies like beyondblue.

Heads Up is basically a free toolkit to help organisations and workers to understand the importance of positive workplace mental health, to make an assessment of their own workplace, and to access a broad range of resources, tools and referral points to help create mentally healthy workplace.

The website has been designed to accommodate the needs of CEO’s and business owners, executives and managers, and workers alike.  Simply go onto the site to review some of the information and research that explains the importance of positive workplace mental health, to complete a comprehensive action plan for your workplace or simply to access a rich supply or resources that provide real benefit across those audiences.

What is something that an organisation can do today to build a mentally healthy workplace?

It’s going to sound like crass promotion, but the best thing I can suggest is to head to the Heads Up website.  It won’t do everything for you but it’s the ideal place to work out what you need to do, and what the value is to you and your organisation if you’re committed to taking action.

Heads Up is a very new concept and it’s quite intuitive and easy to use. It works through the classic ‘why should I act, what should I do and how should I do it’ approach’ and it’s very much a self-led process.

Some organisations will go there and find out that they are doing right things whilst others will quickly realise they are not doing enough to support their workers and are failing to realise the true value and potential of their business.

Either way, just by taking part in the assessment tool you will become more aware and will be helping us to reach our goal which is to get 80% of Australian work places to take steps to be more mentally healthy.

What would you say to organisations that are struggling to get mental health initiatives up and running?

Firstly, it’s important to have a dialogue with you staff and a narrative for them to follow and you have to be willing to keep coming back to it over the long term. Most importantly, you have to be really specific about what you require from staff.

Secondly, it’s important is to find influential people in the organisation –  whether it’s formal leadership or the inevitable change agents that you find in all businesses –  and getting them on board.

In your experience how can more junior staff encourage or convince senior staff members that this is an important issue and gain their support?

When we initially commenced Heads Up it was with the intent of talking to business owners, CEOs and senior executives with the assumption that we needed to speak to decision makers.  Since our launch in June this year, it’s become clear that there are many individual workers and middle managers who can also be influential in creating a mentally healthy workplace and we’re working hard to increase the resources available and relevant to them.

Probably the best suggestion I can make regardless of your level within your organisation is to try and get a conversation going about mental health in your workplace, or actively connect into any conversations that already exist.  With positive discussion comes a reduction in stigma, and with a reduction in stigma comes a great chance that people will seek help.

Thanks Andrew!


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