"If employees have an issue or a problem, they don't feel they have to keep it to themselves. They can just come and talk to us at any time. Our people are a lot happier and more committed to the organisation."

About the initiatives 

Out Doors Inc. is a community-based and community-managed organisation with 14 full-time employees. Its primary focus is providing adventure and recreational activities for people with mental health conditions. 

The organisation's approach to mental health is evident in its workplace philosophy of fostering mental health wellness and a culture of openness. When an employee presents an issue or problem, they know they can discuss the issue with their manager to come up with and implement solutions together. 

Out Doors Inc. creates a workplace culture in which everyone feels valued and respected and where staff can freely communicate with their direct managers, senior managers and coworkers. This enables employees to discuss issues as soon as they arise, rather than holding them inside, which plays an important protective role in promoting mental health. 

Key features of Out Doors Inc.’s approach to mental health and wellness include:

  • promoting mental health and wellness at the workplace with flexible working hours and remote working opportunities
  • adopting a culture of trust between management and staff where employees are given the autonomy to work and meet their deadlines in a flexible manner
  • an open-door policy to facilitate communication in the workplace
  • an open-plan office to encourage discussions among employees and with managers
  • promotion and modelling of the values of accessibility and openness by the CEO and management 
  • regular catch-ups with management to raise issues of concern and implement necessary action
  • training and development opportunities to keep staff engaged and stimulated, including funding and time off for all staff to pursue a study of interest 
  • all staff participate in general training in mental health, such as mental health first aid programs
  • mental health days available from sick leave allocations when an employee needs a day off work for other personal reasons.


How the initiatives came about

A shift in focus towards more open communication and improved staff morale followed the appointment of a new CEO in 2006. The CEO wanted to create a culture that would motivate staff and enhance engagement in their day-to-day work, based on trust and openness across all levels of the organisation. With the support of senior management, this process took over two years to implement.

The vision, passion and trust demonstrated by the organisation's leaders helped employees realise their own abilities and potential. It also increased their focus on making a contribution to the community through their work, which in turn contributed to their mental wellbeing.

Benefits and outcomes

The benefits and outcomes of the initiative include:

  • higher staff retention (anecdotally believed to be higher than other organisations in the community sector)
  • high employee satisfaction, as reported through an annual staff satisfaction survey
  • increased productivity, an observation that has been made by staff and management since the change in the leadership team 
  • more open communication among staff and management, facilitated through the organisation’s open-door policy and culture.

Recommendations, considerations and lessons learned

Challenge: Finding leaders with an interest in the needs of people

Actions:

  • Screen leaders for their interest in people; this characteristic was key for Out Doors Inc. in developing a new approach to staff mental health and wellbeing.
  • Under the guidance of leaders demonstrating passion for the work and the community, staff also improved their commitment, enjoyment and satisfaction from work, which made them a happier workforce.

Challenge:  Motivating employees in a mentally healthy way

Actions:

  • Out Doors Inc. motivates staff through a culture of trust, respect and openness. The open-door policy enables management to feel close to their staff members, understanding their concerns and leading by example.
  • The open communication policy encourages people to feel comfortable about asking for help, which has been crucial in maintaining mental health at work. Staff feel that that their views and contributions are valued at work.
  • The open-plan office layout also fosters the culture of openness.
Jennifer Norris
Out Doors Inc.

Jennifer Norris
Program Manager
Out Doors Inc.