Home > Blog > Building a Positive Mental Health Culture in Your Organisation
decorative icon

Building a Positive Mental Health Culture in Your Organisation

By Tasha Broomhall

How do you build a culture of positive mental health and wellbeing?

The first step is to acknowledge that mental health is an important part of general health and as such you will have employees who are affected at times. Understand that not all employees with mental health issues will be impacted in their work functioning, but if they are it is important that they feel safe to disclose their issues to you. You can then work together to meet your obligations to them and other employees, providing appropriate support while still managing your organisation’s needs.

Tasha interviewed Andrew Douglas (Principal, Workplace Relations, M+K Lawyers) regarding the topic of creating a culture of positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. He shared some interesting insights into organisations’ obligations in this area.

TB: If an employer recognises changes in an employee that suggest they may be experiencing emotional distress, is it appropriate for the employer to address these changes, even if it is not impacting on the employee’s work performance?

AD: People work in systems, not in cells, so there will therefore be some impacts even if the origin of an issue is in an employee’s personal life. If you are aware that the person is hurting, then it is a potential hazard and you need to determine the level of risk for the individual and others and apply a level of control. Safety legislation is built on a number of health concepts and one of these is that illness creates a hazard and therefore employers must determine how it affects the employee and potentially others.

TB: How should employers manage performance when mental health issues are potentially present?
AD: The Courts talk about disaggregation – the need to separate out performance versus mental health issues and then to distinguish the difference between the inherent requirements of the job and identify reasonable adjustments. While people stand by and take no action the person can gradually become sicker and this can then become a performance issue and a potential litigious issue. The heart of the process is to train people to be mindful to deal with issues now (no pre-judgement – do not bring past history into it) and to disaggregate between performance and other possible mental health issues. The altruistic belief that people will ultimately do good should be a basis for organisations engaging with their employees. It starts with leadership and values and then moves into looking at how we as an organisation support our employees. Leaders need to know what is expected of them – how to have the conversations they need to with their employees if they observe something that indicates the employee is not doing so well.

TB: What do you wish that employers knew about mental health and the workplace?
AD: If you want people to hear you and respond in tune with you, then you need to act generously and with care. Take the opportunity to understand what wellbeing is – get rich data around that and have a strategy to meet those challenges, understand what they look like and to develop a proactive plan. Organisations need to:

  • Equip people with the skills to have those conversations to engage with and support their colleagues and employees when they notice an issue;
  • Ensure their leaders know how to have conversations to connect with the employee and allow them to disclose.

In my experience it is almost always personal (issues such as my kid not coming home, my wife and I having problems, my manager puts too much pressure on me with his expectations). So what? Are you not going to deal with the human?

TB: Where do organisations start to build better mental health cultures?
AD: Define what the purpose of the organisation is and have absolute clarity about what that looks like. Values are held out at good times and discarded at bad times and if you can align at bad times it breathes life into what is good behaviour. It creates architecture of good behaviour. There is then trust and that is what you need for people to be motivated to take discretionary effort above and beyond us as individuals.

Develop skills around recognising and responding early to have conversations.
Stage 1.
Measure it to continuously get better.
Stage 2.
Develop skills around recognising and responding early to have conversations.
Stage 3.
Measure it to continuously get better.

When implemented, appropriate and targeted strategies can greatly improve an organisation’s culture of mental health and wellbeing, to the point where employees feel safe to disclose any mental health issues and get the support that they need.

Review your organisation’s wellbeing program – is it meeting your needs?

Andrew Douglas is the Victorian Head of the Workplace Relations team at M+K Lawyers. Andrew’s principal areas of practice are industrial relations, employment law, worker’s compensation, governance and OHS.
Andrew works with a number of employers building wellbeing programs that improve employee health and productivity whilst reducing worker’s compensation premiums. He is a skilled author and speaker within Australia, New Zealand and throughout Asia.
Share this article
Scroll to Top