Strategies to deal with mental health issues in the workplace are far more effective if they are formalised, an Ai Group webinar heard yesterday. 

Guest speaker Jillian Searant, Mental Health and Safety Specialist at KinetiK Global, said having a framework in place could help organisations measure the success of strategies that worked and discard those that didn’t. 

“A lot of organisations have really good intentions on the psychological health of their workplace and also on wellbeing, but they haven’t put them into a strategy or a framework and therefore they really don’t have any idea as to whether what they are implementing is actually being effective,” Ms Searant said. 

“If you put a framework together, you will be able to measure things, discard the things that aren’t working and improve the things that are and see real benefits to your workforce in implementing anything to do with mental health and wellbeing. If you don’t measure the effect your strategy is having on key metrics, you can’t strive for that continuous improvement.” 

Speaking at our webinar Creating Thriving, Psychologically Safe Workplaces, Ms Searant explored the Thrive at Work Framework, which incorporates three components or pillars: mitigate illness, prevent harm and promote thriving. 

Each pillar has building blocks and measurable key strategies. 

“Detecting mental health issues early is an effective way of preventing a negative impact on businesses and that’s where key early intervention strategies come into it,” Ms Searant said. 

“Implementing early intervention strategies into an organisation is associated with significantly increased return on investment (ROI), as calculated by comparing early intervention to treatment costs and the subsequent reduction in absenteeism and improvement in productivity.” 

Fellow webinar guest speaker Sam D’Angelo, Performance Coach and Director of KinetiK Global, said “connection over perfection” was a useful motto. 

“Connect with your people,” Ms D’Angelo said. 

“If they are struggling, you will know.  You will know that there is a change in their disposition. Try to get Zoom calls with cameras in this remote working environment.  

“Body language equates to 70% of communication. It’s really hard for someone to hide the way they’re feeling because often body language will show through, then you will be able to do something about it. 

“If it’s just a quick phone call, then it can be harder because you’re missing that body language.  

“Something as simple as starting a team meeting with saying ‘tell me one good thing that’s going well for you and what’s a challenge’.  

“Normalise the ‘how are you going?’ Listen to the language. Listen to the way people are talking, as well.  

“Just by asking someone how they are genuinely shows that you care. Through that connection, you can move mountains. You can save lives. You can make an enormous impact.” 

Conversely, untreated mental illnesses in the workplace cost Australian businesses $11 billion a year.  That figure can be broken down into three components: absenteeism, presenteeism and workers compensation claims.  

Presenteeism was the biggest cost, Ms Searant said, adding up to $6.1billion of that $11billion. 

“Presenteeism is when people go to work and they don’t feel like they can fulfill the requirements of their job because of untreated mental health issues,” she said.  

Educating leaders and managers and arming them with information can help employers detect mental health issues in workers early.  This could be done through training programs, guest speakers and meaningful conversations with staff, Ms Searant said. 

“If you have Mental Health First Aiders, you need to promote their services,” she said.  

“Ensure that people are aware that they are available. 

“One of the main reasons why people in the workplace do not put their hand up or ask for help when they are experiencing poor mental health is that they don’t feel confident that their manager will know what to do or that they have processes in place to help them. 

“A recent survey showed only 15% of employees report that their leaders encourage and promote mental health policies and practices. 

“Supporting illness is allowing people to have the space and confidence to speak up when they are experiencing poor mental health and removing the stigma associated with mental health in our workplaces.  It’s vital to remove barriers to accessing support. 

“If there is a program of support at your workplace, ask yourself: is it accessible to employees? Can they use it during work time? Can they use it themselves or do they have to ask a superior for the number? Can they make the appointment themselves? Things like that.  

“We need to provide work practices that accommodate people with a mental illness and that means we have to have mature injury management systems that have processes in place such as a psychological return to work process. That is something that is specifically put together with the injured person in mind or the person returning to work after a mental illness.” 

It’s not surprising some employers lack confidence in promoting wellbeing at work.  

Another survey showed 30% of Australian leaders said they didn’t address mental health issues owing to a lack of understanding and training in supporting employees experiencing these issues. 

The second pillar in the Thrive at Work Framework focuses on preventing harm. It involves increasing job resources, reducing job demands and increasing resilience and coping mechanisms. 

“We know that when people exceed their ability to cope with workplace demands, that is when stress eventuates,” Ms Searant said, adding that approximately 90% of workers compensation claims related to mental stress. 

Ms D’Angelo said: “The message I keep saying to people is ‘let’s learn how to dance in the rain’.  

“We’re all being presented with the same scenario, although there are different factors for everyone, so let’s work on the tools that are going to teach you how to dance in the rain no matter what’s going on. Really work on their resilience and coping mechanisms.” 

Finally, employers are urged to implement the third pillar and “promote thriving”. 

Ms Searant said the benefits included increased productivity, decreased numbers of people staying off work, greater staff retention and a better reputation for the organisation in its industry. 

“We need to have strategic human resource practices in place that help people to reach their potential,” she said. 

“When it comes to creating conditions for growth, connections need to be high quality. We need to ensure diversity and inclusion is part of the overall process. 

“All of these strategies have a return on investment of an average of between $1.50 and $4 for every dollar that you spend on it — that is in increased productivity, decreased absenteeism and decreased workers compensation claims.  

“We also know that promoting a thriving workforce helps the individual as well as the organisation.  

“It just makes sense to implement a strategy and formalising it. 

“You can have physical activity programs, you can have fruit bowls, you can talk all you like about how you care about mental health in the workplace but unless you have work practices that back that up and metrics that you can measure and say ‘yes, we are improving in our productivity’, you’re probably only going to have a haphazard approach to it. 

“By measuring these benefits, you will be able to go to your senior management or board members and say ‘this is the positive impact on our organisation’ and then you may be able to introduce even more strategies down the line once they see those benefits.” 

Ai Group has training for managers to support employees with mental health issues. Find the course here.

To learn more about the Thrive at Work Framework, contact KinteiK Global here.

Thrive at Work Framework: Parker, S., Jorritsma, K. & Griffin, M. (in press) Mental Health and the “Thrive at Work” Framework: Present and Future Applications. In P. Brough, E. Gardiner, and K. Daniels. (Eds). Handbook on Management and Employment Practices, Series in Occupational Health Sciences, Springer Nature: London. 

References: Mentally healthy workplaces in NSW – Discussion  paper







Wendy Larter

Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.