Workforce | Skills

Culture change needed for workplace wellbeing

Australian businesses need to create a culture of open and honest discussions about mental health a CEDA forum in Melbourne heard.

Australian businesses need to create a culture of open and honest discussions about mental health, a CEDA forum in Melbourne heard.

Beyondblue, Workplace and Workforce Program Leader, Therese Fitzpatrick said buy-in from the top is necessary to change cultural and get organisations talking about mental health.

"People will not talk about mental health problems within their workplace and that's something we need to do something about," she said.

"We need commitment from senior leaders…unless you've got that buy in from the top you're not going to really get proper organisational change.

Ms Fitzpatrick said we need to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and get organisations thinking about workplace mental health in the same way they do about physical health and safety.

"We need to make sure we now get mental health on the agenda so people are really thinking about it from a wellbeing perspective but also a legislative perspective," she said.

Ms Fitzpatrick said it was imperative organisations have a mentally healthy workplace and workforce in order to achieve business goals.

"It's really important that we don't put if off to the side, it's not something separate that we do. It is something we need to incorporate into absolutely everything that we do," she said.

Ms Fitzpatrick said beyondblue had found job stress, which is defined as work that is high demand and low control with low social support at work, has a two to three fold increase in depression and anxiety disorders.

Executive Institute of Performance and Wellbeing, Executive Director, Greg Burns said it is critical we address the stigma and shame associated with mental health issues which is obstructed by corporate culture.

"The competitive corporate culture undermines virtually every business because of the fact that it takes away any chance of honesty in the workplace," he said.

"Consequently it's a major inhibiting factor for executives or for any person in the workforce to come forward to seek existence before they hit rock bottom."

Speaking from his own experience with job stress and depression, Mr Burns, who was named Australia's number one stockbroker three years in a row in BRW's annual awards (1998-90), while many excellent initiatives to raise public awareness exist, very little still exists in business.

"The same problems that had adversely affected me (are) still major impediments in creating a workplace that could empathise with those facing this disease," he said.

"There is a lack of education, awareness, early intervention and of course the major impediment, the stigma that's associated with mental health issues."

"Many Australian businesses have a culture of sending their executives for physical health checks but almost none of them send their executives for mental health checks."

"This is in spite of the fact that depression is one of the leading causes of disability and is expected to become the number one cause in the future.

Mr Burns agreed that changing organisational culture must begin with the CEO and board.

"Senior management must lead the way to demonstrate that their organisation takes the issue of mental health seriously and supports the workforce in managing their wellbeing," he said.

Director, Policy, Chartered Secretaries Australia (CSA), Judith Fox said from a risk management perspective it's surprising the mental health of an organisation is still not on the corporate radar.

CSA research conducted in 2012 of 300 ASX listed companies found that 40 per cent of participants did not see mental health issues as a risk to their organisation, she said.

"There really is a risk of corporate and executive liability if these issues are not taken care of within an organisation," she said.

"One of the key things to actually being able to get this on the board's agenda is to actually talk about it as a risk management issue, which is exactly what it is. It's no different from other forms of workplace health and safety.

"They (the Board) have to understand that they're responsible for setting the culture, the tone from the top.

"So you must involve your board in the development of those policies as they are involved in every other policy."

However, Ms Fox warned that the desired and lived culture must align and policies must be evaluated to ensure they are effective.

"You can have the best policies in the world, but they don't mean anything if the actual culture that is lived day-to-day is completely at odds with what your policies say," she said.