Workplace mental health is a critically important issue facing every employee and employer in Australia. This is not a discretionary ‘nice to have’ issue – its a legislated responsibility for every employer in the nation.
The Productivity Commission’s 2020 report into mental health notes that in 2018 2.4 million Australians aged 18 and over experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress. It also confirms the strong links between employment and mental health. Tragically the report also reveals the truly shattering statistic that as many as 65,000 people attempt suicide in this country every year – and it remains the leading cause of death in our young people.
Workplace mental health is an issue I feel very strongly about, which is why it has been my privilege to serve as the chair of the Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia – formed in 2020 by leading employers who represent 400,000 working Australians.
The Alliance is focussed on developing evidence based best practice to help build mentally healthy workplaces, and we are strongly encouraging other employers to join us in this important action. Working together we can have a compounding effect on the health and success of the nation’s workplaces.
Why now? Because every workplace has been impacted by COVID-related restrictions and there are very clear signals that the world of work is changed forever, with technology helping to create hybrid work environments where people may spend part of their time in the office and part of their time working remotely.
As employers we now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine work; to build healthy workplaces, to shape jobs that promote mental wellbeing. With talent mobility and skills shortages impacting many industries as well as the legislated responsibility under Australia’s Work Health and Safety law that all employers have, this is an issue that impacts every workplace in the country.
The CMHAA, which held its annual meeting in late February, is compiling a wealth of data about mental health and wellbeing, collecting examples of workplace best practice, and leading the way in terms of shaping work, upskilling managers and developing leaders equipped to partner with employees to drive change for good. You can read more about our annual meeting here.
It is important that in a year’s time the Alliance and its members can look back and say that we have achieved something of consequence, that we have made genuine progress. That shaped our discussions during the annual meeting when we determined that over the next 12 months we will:
- Support Australia’s Corporate CEOs to understand the role of work as a protective factor in mental wellbeing, and bring a common understanding of the terminology in describing mental wellness, illness, fitness and health, and where workplaces need to focus;
- Some members will evaluate and test different ways of working and job designs, and share their findings with the Alliance;
- Explore the link between job tasks and psychological risk;
- Explore best practice approaches to psychological risk assessment, and share findings amongst members;
- Continue to progress our data strategy, initially adopting a small number of common metrics across all members; and
- Develop a toolkit of credible practice in developing and rewarding leaders for mentally healthy workplaces, bringing learnings from across sectors.
I encourage all to take the time to learn more about the CMHAA, and to join the Alliance to help accelerate our efforts to build mental health across Australia and promote workplaces that prioritise wellbeing for us all.