Microsoft Australia, like most organisations, had long known about the importance of employee mental wellbeing. But four years ago, our HR team noticed some concerning trends: more team members were talking to their managers about being overwhelmed, stressed and suffering anxiety.
The issue wasn’t isolated to Microsoft. External data was showing a similar trend of rising mental health issues in the workplace.
We faced a major challenge: how, as a corporate, did we respond to this growing problem? If a team member said they were mentally unwell, what would we do?
We realised we needed and wanted to build an open and transparent culture; a culture where it was as normal for our employees to talk about their mental health as it was their physical health.
A head and heart argument
But to build a truly great response to the mental health challenge, we needed our leadership team to sponsor our initiatives and invest in mental health. We had to make a strong case for doing more. So, we put forward both ‘head’ and heart’ arguments.
Our ‘head’ pitch focused on the business: declining mental health was leading to increased absenteeism, rising distraction, falling effort and engagement, and overwhelmed managers.
But we also spoke to our leaders’ hearts: their desire to care for other people. We personalised mental health. We told stories about (unidentified) team members grappling with mental illness.
We also asked leaders to open up about conversations they were having around mental health, both with their teams, but also outside of work. We found it didn’t take much to draw people in because many people have suffered, or know someone close, who is suffering from mental illness.
The outcome was just as we hoped. Our Australian leadership, led by Steven Worrall, were fully supportive and provided the funding which enabled us to build a wellbeing strategy for Microsoft Australia.