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Start with Governance

By Anna

Organisations today are ‘doing more with less’ and implementing ‘lean principles’.

Doing so while maintaining a productive and vibrant workforce can be a challenge. Relentless change and pressure in workplaces have increasingly resulted in employees reporting higher levels of stress, which negatively affects productivity. Leaders need to understand how to prevent, recognise and appropriately respond to mental health issues in the workplace. This includes unhealthy levels of stress. However, the responsibility doesn’t only sit with leaders; organisations as a whole need to take responsibility for minimising and appropriately responding to risks of psychological harm.

There seem to be distinctly different approaches organisations take regarding the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. Some organisations are still embryonic in their efforts. They have not assessed their risks and have not investigated appropriate controls. Some organisations are stuck in a cycle of simply reacting to issues as they arise. Thankfully, every year, more organisations seem to be adopting a more balanced approach, starting with organisational governance, the skills of their leaders and the strategies to support individuals.

However, it’s not a case of the more you do, the better.

To optimise workplace performance, it is imperative to create a sustained program that builds capacity within your organisation to recognise and support mental wellbeing. But this needs to be achieved within appropriate boundaries; to not be invasive and risk intruding in employees personal lives.

There is an ever-increasing trend towards Apps and programs (paid for by the organisation) that provide psychometric testing to determine any diagnosis an employee might have. The results of which are then used to encourage the employee to access support if needed.

Focussing on employee mental wellbeing is important, yet not all interventions are appropriate, and some technonolgy-based tools present particular risks. Before implementing a new technology based initiative, consider:
  • is what the initative aims to measure and deliver within an organisations responsibility?
  • are there potential risks regarding gathering, storing and using private employee medical information en-masse?

If an organisation provides such a program for employees, they need to investigate where the data is stored.
  • is it on an Australian or international server?
  • what are the privacy controls instigated by the provider so that your employee data is secure and not at risk of being sold?

Additionally, organisations need to investigate the efficacy and validity of such interventions. Many programs claim to provide psychometric testing, however not all the tests they use are designed for electronic delivery and interpretation. Some are only validated for use when administered by an appropriately qualified practitioner who then personally interprets the results.

If organisations do adopt such programs, they need to openly communicate all the conditions around data use, access, and the appropriateness of the tests being used.

While more is not necessarily better, approaching mental health and wellbeing systematically is important.

What should organisations consider to create a culture of positive mental health and wellbeing and to minimise risk?


  • review relevant ISO Certification and Australian Standards for compliance in demonstrating competence and awareness,
  • develop and maintain a risk register with appropriate hierarchy of controls,
  • develop and maintain a Mental Wellbeing Committee (that is resourced),
  • review policies and procedures to consider the relevant inclusion of mental health and wellbeing in relation to health and safety, privacy, nondiscrimination, Code of Conduct, and values statements.


  • develop the skills to recognise and appropriately respond to mental health issues,
  • develop the skills to be able to identify risks and apply controls,
  • develop the skills to be able to manage and access resources in a crisis.

All employees:

  • develop stress management skills,
  • develop positive communication skills,
  • develop the personal mental wellbeing skills.

The goal should be to recognise the impact of mental illness in the workplace and to help organisations to balance the employee’s needs with the organisation’s operational needs.

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