Mulgowie Farming approached mental health and wellbeing at the workplace by focusing on changing and formalising internal systems, and addressing the organisational culture.
About the initiatives
Mulgowie Farming is a vertically-integrated horticulture company with properties growing fruit and vegetables in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Employees include full-time and seasonal casual staff, ranging from around 400 to 500 people across the multiple sites.
The organisation implemented a range of formal and informal initiatives to support mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. A Safety, Human Resources, Environment and Quality Manager was employed to review policies and procedures and implement changes to improve workplace health and safety.
One of the challenges facing the organisation is the seasonal and climate dependent nature of the horticulture industry, meaning it is not able to commit a large budget for its mental health initiatives.
To overcome this barrier, the organisation approached mental health and wellbeing at the workplace by focusing on changing and formalising internal systems, and addressing the organisational culture. The organisation was restructured, for example, and the number of direct reports to the CEO was reduced to increase his capacity to engage with all employees. Silos were broken down to encourage conversations between managers and employees, and across departments and geographic locations. New roles were created to demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to promoting mental health, including cultural coordinators to focus on staff needs and wellbeing.
- allowing staff to attend educational and training opportunities ranging from topics on people development (e.g. upskilling) to professional development seminars (e.g. superannuation and Certificate IV training for frontline management)
- the development of a human resources strategy, manual and guides, which contribute to increased transparency around policies and procedures
- providing employees access to a company doctor in addition to their EAP
- supporting organisations such as Lifeline and SuperFriend
How the initiatives came about
A fatal workplace accident in 2010 provided the impetus for change. A step-by-step approach was taken to develop and implement a range of formal and informal initiatives with a focus on showing care for staff and encouraging conversations across the company.
Benefits and outcomes
Benefits and outcomes have included:
- increased employee engagement with their roles and company values.
- increased conversation contributing to better information sharing and development of best practice and innovation, such as trialling new ideas and methods. This in turn contributes to increased productivity and financial performance.
- increased conversations have also improved the general capacity to identify people at risk of mental health issues
- reduced absenteeism
- improved staff morale, as observed through positive verbal and non-verbal language
Recommendations, considerations and lessons learned
Challenge: Engaging managers
- Engage managers in the process of change
- Equip managers with knowledge and skills to support change
- Inform CEO about issues and create direct communication paths with individual/s involved
Challenge: Engaging staff
- Ensure initiatives are subtle so staff don't feel confronted
- Tailor initiatives to the needs and wants of staff
- Address the physical safety of workers in order to contribute to positive mental health
- Take small steps and building on them
- Engage with staff at each worksite to ensure commitment
- Identify 'champions' at each worksite who can help drive the initiative and support behaviour change
Challenge: Budget constraints
- Provide (non-financial) employee benefits such as EAP, access to counselling and medical advice/treatment (through the company doctor), educational seminars (e.g. on superannuation)
- Supporting mental health in the workplace does not need to be a financially costly exercise - showing care (for employees) is relatively inexpensive and effective