NSCA Foundation

In conversation: promoting mental health in the workplace

By Amy Steed
Friday, 08 September, 2017

In conversation: promoting mental health in the workplace

Given that approximately 20% of Australian workers will experience some kind of mental health issue throughout the duration of their career, supporting mental health in the workplace should be a key consideration for all leaders.

In an effort to promote a mentally healthy place of employment, EML and The Shannon Company have developed a humorous six-part video series as a resource for businesses, starring comedian Dave O’Neil and organisational psychologist Dr Peter Cotton.

The videos are based on fictional organisation ‘Inappropriate Corporation’ and follow the progress made by manager O’Neil as he and Dr Cotton attempt to navigate a range of mental health issues experienced by staff at the company.

We sat down with Anna Feringa, Principal Consultant at EML, to find out more about this project.

Where did the idea for these videos initially come from?

EML have seen an increase in psychological injury claims over time, so we looked at where the problems started and the simple things that could have been done by workplaces to avoid these injury claims being made in the first place.

In order to create the six episodes in our video series, EML drew on WorkCover data for injury claims — in particular, looking at what were the most common types of claims made by workers. This informed our decision to focus on the six areas in the videos — incivility, mental health stigma, work overload, early warning signs, change management and bullying.

When people are subject to critical incidents at work, this is something that is difficult to control. However, workplace behaviour is something that can be nurtured to avoid psychological injury and we wanted the videos to send this message.

How effective has the use of humour been in delivering your message?

The subject of mental health can be a dark and fearful area — people are often hesitant to address it. EML have not used humour in these videos to mock or trivialise mental health. Rather, we’ve found that people respond well to humour and we want these videos to act as a conversation starter.

Dave O’Neil is fantastic at taking a light-hearted approach to what is a very serious topic, and we also thought it was important to have an expert psychologist as part of the project. Dr Peter Cotton is very prominent in the field of workplace mental health, so it was great to have him on board as well. The majority of those who appear in the videos are actually actors, but we used around 10 EML staff as extras during filming.

What sort of response have you received so far?

We were very careful with how we introduced these videos to the community, because we had taken such a bold approach in using humour to explore mental health. I was expecting a moderate level of disdain, as some people may feel uncomfortable with looking at mental health through a humorous lens. But the feedback continues to be fantastic — we had a series of launches across Victoria with influential figures in attendance. It was great to see how well the project was received by the community.

These videos are our gift to the community, and as a business resource they are available Australia-wide. You don’t need to be an EML client or customer in order to access this series. The videos also come with an employer checklist to help employers start looking at mental health in their workplace and begin applying the practical tips from the videos to continue to build more robust mental health practices in their own workplace.

What is the most important thing a leader can do to support the mental health of their workers?

The most important thing that a manager can do is to talk about mental health and, when they see something that is out of the ordinary, to address it as quickly as they can. The majority of workplaces tend to be more comfortable with managing physical injury and risks, and how these can be minimised or avoided. But mental health in the workplace needs to be normalised and, for this to happen, leaders need to talk to their people as often as they can. It should be a common topic of discussion in the workplace and most importantly needs to be embraced by senior management.

There are so many pieces of advice I could give to employers, but the best thing I can say is that they should just go back to the basics. Dave O’Neil shows this clearly in the videos — as a manager, he is concerned about not being a mental health expert, but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to keep it simple and ensure he has an open, ongoing dialogue with his staff to help promote a mentally healthy workplace.

To access the videos, visit www.inappropriatecorp.com.au.

Image caption: Anna Feringa, Principal Consultant at EML.

NSCA Foundation is a member based, non-profit organisation working together with members to improve workplace health and safety throughout Australia. For more information and membership details click here
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