Leading the way: change starts at the top

Nov 27, 2015

Creating a transparent culture is crucial for a mentally healthy workplace. Setting the right tone through open business practices is likely to create a positive workplace environment that will filter through all parts of the organisation.

As a positive workplace environment and good mental health go hand-in-hand, it’s important to include mental health as one of your organisation’s defined priorities.

At any given time about one in five Australian employees is experiencing a mental health condition – most commonly anxiety and depression.

And like any health condition, anxiety and depression can affect a person’s ability to work.

Untreated mental health conditions cost Australian employers $10.9 billion every year through absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.The business’s reputation is also at risk among potential clients, customers and employees. Mentally unhealthy workplaces also tend to have poor morale and staff engagement, high staff turnover and risk potential penalties for breaches of work health and safety legislation.

If profitability and responsible business practices are part of your company’s vision, then it’s important to make mental health a priority.

Communicate your commitment to mental health as part of your workplace culture – make it a part of induction packs for new starters, display posters about mental health in your workplace, and include policy information on your intranet.

Arranging for someone from outside the organisation to share their personal experiences of anxiety, depression and recovery may also help to break down the stigma associated with mental health and encourage discussion. In time a person from within the organisation might also be prepared to share their own experiences. 

What makes a good leader?

Change starts at the top, so senior leaders must be onboard in order to make visible, long-term commitments to mental health in the workplace.

Leaders are in a strong position to encourage change and positively influence the working environment, management practices and employee experiences. It’s important to involve your employees in the process – ask them about their needs and preferences to ensure you’re implementing the right mental health actions for your business. Confidential surveys, one-on-one meetings, a suggestion box or an open meeting can all encourage discussion and help you seek regular employee feedback.

Effective communication, transparency in decision-making, and strong performance management and evaluation practices are all features of a positive workplace culture. Get these things right and you’ll see this positivity reflected in all areas of your business.

Ensuring you have robust policies in place to deal with bullying and harassment is also important, as is encouraging employees to report any inappropriate behaviour they see or experience is also critical.

Open-door policies, mentor programs and regular manager-employee catch-ups reinforce the company’s commitment to a mentally healthy workplace by placing senior leaders in a visible and approachable light.

Support and resources for leaders

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