UPDATE: CMHAA Annual Gathering February 2021

Published Fri, Feb 26, 2021

In February, the Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia held its annual gathering, to review progress to date, and craft an action plan for the year ahead. We’ve pulled together highlights from the day and an outline of our priorities for 2021. Mental health must be a priority for every organisation and individual in Australia – please join us on this critically important journey to wellbeing.

-Steven Worrall, chair CMHAA and managing director, Microsoft Australia

Every employer in Australia must adhere to the Work Health and Safety Act and associated regulations which encompass mental health issues; this is not discretionary, rather a legislated requirement.

The Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia (CMHAA) was formed by some of the nation’s leading employers in 2020 to support mental health in the workplace. With a combined employment base of 400,000+ people the Alliance shares information and insights and is working toward crafting evidence based best practices that foster mentally healthy workplaces.

In February 2021 Alliance members came together to discuss progress to date and to shape the agenda for the coming year.

Alliance members were presented with the results of several important reports released during the last year (key points detailed below) while Commonwealth Bank shared its approach to promoting the mental health and wellbeing of its people.

Key themes explored during the day included:

  • The critical role of data as an evidence base for developing processes and practices, and also to shape metrics for measuring progress;
  • The need to boost the mental health literacy of employees, managers, and particularly hiring teams in order to structure jobs so that they are stimulating without being onerous; and
  • The journey that leaders are undertaking to helm mentally healthy workplaces in organisations stretching from large geographically distributed enterprises to sole traders which exist within broader supply chains.

Delegates also determined the action agenda for 2021 – details below.

Australian employers wishing to join the Alliance are encouraged to contact CHMAA directly to get involved in this important initiative.

SNAPSHOT: Scaling the situation

A series of reports has clearly documented the scale of the mental health challenge facing Australia, and in particular the workplace issues that organisations must address.

Australia’s largest workplace mental health study, Indicators of a Thriving Workplace, is a longitudinal study which Superfriend has run for six years and includes responses from more than 10,000 people.

Key insights from the 2020 National Survey include:

  • Australia’s national workplace mental health and wellbeing increased, scoring 65 out of 100 – but only 5 per cent of Australian workplaces are classed as thriving, with a score of 80 or above;
  • Three in five Australian workers have experienced a mental health condition, two in five say the workplace has caused or exacerbated the situation;
  • Mental health concerns are the most common reason for lower productivity in 2020;
  • The pandemic resulted in better work/life balance for almost half (48.5%) of the workforce; and
  • Transport, postal and warehousing have the highest proportion of distressed workers (40.3%) followed by public administration and retail.

Superfriend is now working with PwC to develop an in-house tool based on the Indicators survey that will allow organisations to benchmark themselves as a first step toward developing an evidence-based plan for improvement.

The National Stigma Report Card reveals the challenges facing Australians with complex mental health issues.

Key Insights include:

  • Nearly 80 per cent of respondents report facing workplace discrimination;
  • Seven out of ten have avoided applying for employment or seeking flexible work because of stigma regarding their condition;
  • While workplace awareness of mental health conditions has risen, there is still a dearth of practical support; and
  • Pathways to employment are needed, particularly for young people, to reduce long term disadvantage.

The Productivity Commission Mental Health Inquiry notes that mental health is a key driver of economic participation and productivity in Australia.

Key Insights from the 2020 report (based on pre-pandemic data) include**:**

  • In 2018 2.4 million Australians 18 and over experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress;
  • There are strong links between employment and mental health;
  • 65,000 people attempt suicide each year and in 2019 3,300 people died by suicide;
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death in young people; and
  • The cost to the Australian economy of mental illness and suicide is at least $70 billion pa.

One of the priority reforms advocated by the Productivity Commission Report was to “equip workplaces to be mentally healthy” which aligns directly with the intent of the CHMAA.

Case studies Mar 18, 2021

Commonwealth Bank Thrives

Focus Improving workplace culture

ACTION PLAN: Tackling the issues

Delegates attending the CMHAA annual gathering were reminded that all Australian employers must address the issue of mental health in the workplace – this is not discretionary, this is law.

Some codes are emerging to support employers, such as the NSW Draft Code for Managing the Risks to Psychological Health, which provides useful guidelines for employers seeking to protect, respond and promote mental health and to build more inclusive cultures.

Meanwhile the National Workplace Initiative is in the planning stages and intended to deliver a consistent approach to mentally health workplaces Australia-wide.

Other practical steps that employers can take immediately include raising the mental health literacy of hiring managers and working with a high-quality Employee Assistance Program provider to develop effective prevention programs.

Without determined action by employers to protect the mental health of employees, regulation in this area is expected to get tighter and harder with the prospect of criminal penalties for inaction.


Data and Measurement

CMHAA has been considering its data strategy since mid-2020 in order to collect some form of common data set in order to demonstrate impact. While actual metrics are still being determined, and may build on existing measures, they will be designed to track:

  • Improved employee mental wellbeing;
  • Employees feeling that leaders are committed to mental wellbeing initiatives; and
  • Leaders feeling confident and competent about their approach to mental health.

That minimum data set will be supplemented with qualitative insights, from focus groups, for example.

Over time CMHAA plans to expand the number of indicators and connect these with lagging indicators such as workplace claims with the ultimate goal of being able to connect indicators to generate predictive data about the future of work.

There is also appetite among Alliance members to collect data regarding the mental health impact of hybrid workplaces where people, post pandemic, are combining in-office work with remote at-home work.

Building and rewarding leadership

Leadership has a critical role to play in fostering mental health in the workplace. There are however significant leadership challenges in large and distributed workplaces where it can be hard to forge direct links between leaders and employees.

Strategies need to be developed to support leaders so that they can be human, authentic and vulnerable AND be accountable and driven to succeed. It is this combination that will deliver maximum impact in building mentally healthy workplaces.

Recognising that this is a journey, with leaders at different stages, the Alliance will seek to support all leaders focusing initially on being human and accountable. The Alliance will also seek to support leaders with better access to data and evidence-based programs.

Addressing work practices

Work design and organisational structure play a critical role in growing healthy workplaces and can make a profound impact on people. Studies have demonstrated time and again that when work is well designed there are both performance and mental health benefits.

Organisations working with the CMHAA have the opportunity to develop a common language to discuss work and work practices, to improve people’s experience of work and to enhance mental health.

CMHAA recognises that post COVID it may prove challenging to encourage wholesale work and job redesigns, but there is the opportunity to review work ecosystems and identify opportunities for reform. If we get this right there is the opportunity for people to genuinely thrive.

AGENDA: CMHAA’s plans for the year ahead

Members of the Alliance have outlined key ambitions for the year ahead, and CMHAA reaffirmed its commitment to advancing mentally healthy workplaces and employee wellbeing.

Over the next 12 months CHMAA members 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.

Share article

You might be interested in