The Best Tips from the 2017 Mental Health in the Australian Workplace Conference and Masterclass.

The Best Tips from the 2017 Mental Health in the Australian Workplace Conference and Masterclass.

The following is a summary of the best practical ideas that were outlined at The 2017 Mental Health in the Australian Workplace Conference and Masterclass, held on 1st & 2nd June in Melbourne.  These points will provide you and your leaders with guidance on how to take a more effective, strategic approach to mental health and wellbeing in your organisation.

Hallmarks of a Strategic Approach 

Be outcome driven.  More and more organisations are now realising that mental health and wellbeing is an outcome rather than a program with a menu of items.

Outcomes require measures.  Determine what your measures of success will be and what a reasonable timeframe would be to achieve that. For example, improvements in employee engagement and wellbeing survey results; and decreases in turnover, claims and sick leave over an 18-24 month time period.   

Target the whole organisation.  Most wellbeing programs reach only 5-10% of the organisation.  To earn recognition as a truly ‘mentally healthy organisation’ you must be able to reach the majority of your workforce and lift the wellbeing of that majority up a notch or two across the mental health spectrum.  

Imbed wellbeing into the DNA of the organisation.  Examine the ways in which you can make wellbeing a core part of your way of doing things.  For example, aligning your essential people processes, such as performance management and learning and development, with good wellbeing outcomes.

Wellbeing as a culture change process.   If you want to make wellbeing a core part of your way of doing things, you have to take a cultural change mindset.  Cultural change takes time, requires a coalition of supporters at many levels in an organisation and seeks to fundamentally “change the way we do things around here”.  

Promote, Prevent and Respond.   Your approach can’t just be about responding to ill health.  You have to also a) proactively seek to enhance the health of those who are not ill but who are not thriving either, and b) mitigate the risk that those same people don’t slide backward to ill health.  Remember the absence of ill health is not health.

Establish a baseline.  In order to determine the current level of mental health and wellbeing of the organisation, you need to collect data that gives you this baseline.  Consider a wellbeing survey that requires employees to respond to specific questions on the factors that evidence has shown to drive or undermine wellbeing – leadership, job design, uncertainty, value & respect.     

Align wellbeing with Organisation Development.  If you create a wellbeing unit that is separate from HR & OD you are likely to find that wellbeing initiatives are developed in isolation and sit outside core people processes.   For example, while OD may develop Leadership Development programs, the wellbeing unit could be developing separate courses for leaders covering wellbeing.  With both programs developed in isolation they may contradict or undermine one another.      

Progress from awareness to application.   Many wellbeing programs stop after an awareness campaign.  Organisations roll out training and think that it’s ‘job done’.  In many cases all that has happened is that you have reminded people about the topic, but that’s it.  Effective mental health and wellbeing programs must go beyond that and give people the tools and the skills (capability) to take action and apply their learning.  


Engaging the hearts and minds of leaders

Tailor to your pitch.  There are a range of reasons why leaders adopt taking action on mental health & wellbeing.  These may include “it’s the right thing to do”, “wellbeing improves organisational performance” and/or “wellbeing enhances organisational reputation”, to name just a few.  In order to establish a coalition of support for taking action on mental health and wellbeing you need to tailor your pitch according to what resonates with your leaders.       

Consistency.  It can be exhausting trying to influence each of your key leaders individually and ensure everyone hears your key messages.  Where possible, seek to engage leaders as groups and encourage them to adopt a united position and take a united approach that they contribute to, together.  When employees see and hear leaders doing and saying the same things with consistency, it dramatically increases the likelihood that employees will adopt the same approach.

Great leadership fosters wellbeing as well as great performance.  Many of the factors that drive organisational performance have also been found to drive wellbeing.  This includes transformational leadership, establishing a supportive feedback culture, and involving staff in managing change.  Case and point: leaders don’t need to do that much different to what we already know makes a great leader.  One way to engage leaders to enhance the wellbeing of an organisation is to emphasise the dual effect of good evidenced-based leadership practice.  Senior Executives can also be comforted that building a high performing organisation simultaneously creates the foundations of a mentally healthy organisation.       

Make it personal.  Where possible, immerse your leaders in the actual experience of rolling out your wellbeing strategy.  One way to do this is to influence leaders to undertake a personal wellbeing assessment and demonstrate taking action to lift their own wellbeing. This creates investment in the process.  If senior leaders feel they can identify with the process and talk about their experience, they are more likely to commit to the strategy and advocate for it.  This will encourage much greater take-up at other levels in the organisation. It makes wellbeing real, acceptable and sends a signal that it's supported. 

Wellbeing champions.  Wellbeing champions are role models, advocates and influencers. They encourage their staff to strengthen their wellbeing even if they are already doing ok. They build mentally healthy teams, they execute people processes in line with wellbeing principles, and they advocate for change that delivers wellbeing as an outcome. By definition the role requires these leaders to be passionate about people's wellbeing as they typically possess an understanding of the potential that mentally healthy people have as a group. 

Success stories.  As you roll out your wellbeing strategy, identify the leaders who are naturally achieving success as a ‘wellbeing leader’ through their behaviour and through their take up of some of the initiatives that form part of the wellbeing strategy.  Encourage them to talk about their success to others, in a public forum where possible. Ask them to focus on describing the benefits of a wellbeing approach (ie: “Here’s what’s in it for you”).

Leverage peer pressure.  Leaders are often looking to what other influential people and organisations are doing for inspiration.  Where possible try to identify people who are similar to the person/people you want to influence and enlist them in the influencing process.  People are more influenced by those who are similar to them.  This could involve asking a leader from another unit or someone outside your organisation to come and speak to your leadership group.  It could also involve the initiation of a ‘leadership exchange’ where a facilitated discussion takes place between your leadership group and the leadership group of an organisation that is leading the way on wellbeing.     

If you would like more information about implementing a strategic approach to wellbeing, please contact Paul Clifford, Senior Consultant at FBG Group, on 0423771839 or



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