Media release: Australian businesses unite to tackle mental health in the workplace

Introducing the Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia

Published Tue, Oct 13, 2020

Federal Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, today joined leaders from some of Australia’s largest employers to launch the Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia (CMHAA), a new business-led, expert-guided member organisation dedicated to improving mental health in the workplace.

  • Mental health issues are prevalent amongst Australian workers: One in five working Australians report experiencing a mental illness in the past year.1
  • The human and business cost of mental ill-health is high: The cost to the Australian economy of mental ill-health and suicide is, conservatively, in the order of $43 to $51 billion per year. Additional to this is an approximately $130 billion cost associated with diminished health and reduced life expectancy for those living with mental ill-health.2
  • The workplace can have a positive impact on mental health: Workplace mental health interventions can improve employee mental wellbeing and provide a sense of purpose and structure, as well as promote opportunities for social inclusion and support.3 The result of this is increased productivity and savings of up to $4.5b a year.4

The Alliance’s 15 founding members and participants – many of them direct competitors – recognise that the mental wellbeing of their employees transcends market dynamics, and that working together will give them the best chance of delivering real impact for their people. These members and participants include AIA Australia, Allianz Australia, Bunnings Group, Clayton Utz, Coles Group, Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte, DLA Piper, Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies, King & Wood Mallesons, KPMG, Microsoft Australia, MinterEllison, Woolworths Group and PwC Australia.

The establishment of CMHAA comes at a time when mental health issues in the workplace are increasing in prevalence. According to Safe Work Australia, more than 92% of work-related mental health condition claims can be attributed to work-related mental stress including work pressure, harassment or bullying, exposure to workplace violence and sexual or racial harassment.5

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated mental health issues, with increased anxiety and uncertainty, self-isolation, family stress and financial hardship having a very real impact on quality of life. Further, lockdown restrictions and social isolation measures have changed the boundaries of the ‘workplace’ for millions of Australian workers and the demand for mental health services from employees is rising. Beyond Blue and Lifeline are already experiencing increases of around 30% in demand for their services.6,7

It’s a great victory for us to have some of the biggest organisations in Australia wanting to talk about mental health… but the even more exciting thing is that we’re going to let the science lead us in what we do. We’re not starting from zero knowledge here.

Associate Professor Samuel Harvey, Chief Psychiatrist & Head of the Workplace Mental Health Research Program, Black Dog Institute

Steven Worrall, Chair of CMHAA and Managing Director of Microsoft Australia, said now more than ever, businesses across the board need to come together and take collective responsibility for creating mentally healthy workplaces.

“We can do this firstly by sharing what we’re each doing in the workplace to support our people’s mental health and wellbeing. None of us think we have all the answers, but we’re all doing lots of things, and in many cases, lots of really good things to support our people who are struggling with mental illness or anxiety. It’s on us as leaders to put mental health at the heart of the business agenda, and to bring our collective experience and resources to the attention of other businesses looking to make improvements in this area. We are an alliance for all businesses, large and small alike.”

Anchored around three strategic priorities – Provide Safe Settings, Empower Our Leaders, and Drive Lasting Change – and with the support of mental health experts, CMHAA members will work together to find, test and deliver solutions that work for their people.

Melinda Upton, Partner, DLA Piper and CMHAA Board Member believes positive change needs to be championed from the top to erode barriers and enable people to speak up without fear or stigma.

“The Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia has the potential to really accelerate a change in the way Australia approaches workplace mental health. Its reach extends not only to the workforces of its members, but also to the workforces of other companies and stakeholder groups that they interact with. The footprint that we can have across Australia is substantial.”

Launch panellists

Marg Walford, Regional Operations Manager QLD South, Bunnings Group Limited, has a clear view of the range of issues experienced by employees in the workplace.

“Our team are at the heart of everything we do. Our aim is that every team member feels comfortable talking about mental health, is supported by their leaders and teammates and is aware and able to access the great resources we have available. This begins with equipping our leaders, at all levels, to provide ongoing support in a safe and purposeful working environment. We continually invest in our team’s training and resources to equip them with the necessary skills and tools to handle any given situation,” said Walford

“This Alliance gives Bunnings a valuable opportunity to share ideas, collaborate and learn directly from other businesses wanting to make real progress on mental health in the workplace.

Core to the Alliance’s approach will be engagement with mental health experts, to test the Alliance’s thinking and to come up with new ways as a community to raise the bar on workplace mental health.

Lucy Brogden AM, Chair, National Mental Health Commission, Chair, Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, one of 15 members on CMHAA’s expert advisory group says there’s a growing awareness of the need for businesses to go beyond the “yoga and fruit bowl” approach to addressing mental health in the workplace.

“The Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia has the potential to be a powerful voice for change on workplace mental health. It’s effectively an extensive network of mental health champions across some of our country’s largest employers, who are each saying in unison, ‘this is really important to us. We are committed to this. We are here to be a part of the change,'” said Brogden.

CMHAA is receiving expressions of interest for membership beginning in 2021.

Media enquiries

To arrange an interview with one of our spokespeople, or to speak with one of our founding members, please contact Melissa Cullen on 0408 029 546.

Melissa Cullen, Managing Partner, opr Agency

melissa.cullen@opragency.com.au

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