Bruce Cooper, Clayton Utz

Published Thu, Sep 10, 2020

I’ve seen first-hand how attitudes and behaviours can adversely impact people dealing with mental health issues at work.

Several years ago, a colleague spoke up about their struggle with a mental health condition. It came as something of a surprise – many of us hadn’t realised there was a problem.

Some time afterwards, there was an incident outside work: some fairly aberrant behaviour, that was drawn to management attention. For some, a link was not clearly drawn between the previous admission of mental health challenges and the unusual incident. As a result, there was an unhelpful reaction to the incident (not widespread but it only takes someone in a senior position…). At a time when our colleague needed help and support, there was a degree of scepticism and a failure to recognise that the incident was a result of mental health issues and not some fundamental character flaw.

Fortunately, the story ended well.

But had we been more thoughtful, we could have managed the situation in a way that could have been better for the business and far less stressful for the person involved.

We all have hills to climb

It showed me the importance of empathy and authenticity when dealing with people’s mental health.

I put mental health on the same plane as physical health: both essential for getting a balance in life.

Good mental health is about maintaining perspective and maintaining a strong outlook. No matter how resilient we are, all of us have hills to climb and obstacles to overcome. What matters is how one approaches challenges and how one is equipped to manage those approaches.

At the same time, there’s more to it than our individual mindset. In workplaces, in particular, group dynamics have a significant role to play too

Championing mental health

So, I’m proud that mental health is a priority for Clayton Utz, and that it’s been a priority for some time.

We know those in the legal profession are subject to elevated rates of anxiety and depression. Our goal is to make sure that our people can thrive, that they can engage, that they can be focused, and that they can be energised at work.

We’ve trained over 200 mental health champions and first aiders. We are one of the first firms in Australia to have a trained psychologist as our mental health manager.

Mental health is a fundamental part of our holistic approach to ensure the wellbeing of our people.

A pressing social issue

Clayton Utz is supporting Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia because it is business-led and expert-guided. The combination of these two approaches offers a pragmatic perspective on how organisations can create mentally healthy workplaces.

It’s also significant that the Alliance is non-partisan and cooperative. Members can share strategies and insights. We can be open and authentic about the challenges we’re facing. We can talk freely about how we’re tackling them, what’s working and what’s not.

Mental health is a pressing social issue that concerns all of us. None of us will have all the answers, but as a collective, we will have better answers.

Bruce Cooper, Chief Executive Partner, Clayton Utz

Board Member, Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia

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