"As a result of our initiatives, staff turnover has stabilised and we have a very consistent counselling team, so we’re able to meet our customer needs effectively and efficiently. That’s very important for us in terms of customer retention.”

About the initiatives

Founded 24 years ago, Access EAP is an Australian-owned not-for-profit business that works with organisations to ensure they have a mentally healthy workplace. It provides services such as consulting, training, counselling services and support when there has been a critical incident in the workplace. 

To address mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, the organisation started a new initiative which involved monthly workshops focusing on topics around mental health and resilience. The hour-long workshops have covered topics such as stress management, workplace relationships, diet and physical health, conflict resolution and goal setting. 

The goal of these workshops is to equip employees with the skills needed to facilitate mental health and wellness. The sessions also provide an opportunity for employees to socialise, to get to know their colleagues better and build more meaningful relationships at work as part of cultivating greater trust, openness and respect at the workplace as well as ensuring an RUOK culture. 

Staff have personally acknowledged the benefits of the sessions. While the workshops are not compulsory, staff have willingly taken time off their busy schedules to attend. Attendance has been as high as 98%. The casual tone of the workshops facilitates sharing of personal experiences and creates camaraderie in the workplace.

Access EAP’s efforts to improve mental health also include:

  • allowing extended lunch breaks so that staff can take time out for physical activity (to avoid being desk-bound throughout the entire day)
  • setting up a lunch room so that people can eat together and socialise
  • having an onsite duty counsellor whom call centre staff can go to for support given the emotionally draining jobs that they hold
  • keeping channels of communication open
  • supporting an open-door policy
  • cultivating a culture of openness and open lines of communication to develop trust and respect between staff and management
  • holding regular catch-ups across leadership teams and with their staff members to ensure that management is aware of any issues that arise in the workplace. This has been beneficial, as it has offered staff the opportunity to voice their concerns and for management to be proactive.  

How the initiatives came about

The initiative was instigated by the CEO who realised that the company was not ‘walking the talk’ as a provider of EAP in cultivating a healthy workplace environment. Many staff found their jobs emotionally draining and stressful and used high sugar food as a source of comfort. Equipping staff with a set of self-care skills was seen to be valuable and management believed it would enable them to better understand their clients. 

Discussions were held with the leadership team to determine the key issues at the workplace and workshop sessions were developed to address them and contribute to the mental health and wellbeing of employees.

Benefits and outcomes

Benefits and outcomes include:

  • better-equipped staff
  • a healthier workplace with a better understanding of how staff can take care of themselves and their colleagues better
  • sharing of experiences and a sense of camaraderie in the workplace
  • decreased staff turnover
  • a stronger sense of belonging and engagement among staff
  • a culture of caring about each other and their clients.

Recommendations, considerations and lessons learned

Challenge: Getting people together in one place and stopping business for an hour

Action:

  • Strong support from management was critical to promote a consistent top-down message to stress the importance and value of the workshops
  • Staff recognise the value of participation 

Challenge: Ensuring staff relate to the mental health topic being discussed

Action:

  • The success of the workshop depends on how closely it matches each company’s predetermined goals
  • Ensure that the facilitator understands the industry and the goals of the activity

Challenge: Creating a trusting environment

Action:

  • The workshops function best when people can freely share personal stories and examples
  • Build trust at the workplace to assist with the success of these sessions

Challenge: Getting staff members to make behavioural changes

Action:

  • Lead by example – leaders should not only attend the workshops, but also participate, share and enact the skills presented
Sally Kirkright
AccessEAP

Sally Kirkright
CEO
AccessEAP