Employers getting their heads around mental health

By

09/03/2017

A leading authority on mental health describes a healthy workplace as one where employees go to work, work hard and feel that what they do matters, then leave at the end of the day with some energy left over.

Mary Ann Baynton, executive director of Mindful Employer Canada and program director for the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, said employees should feel their work is valued, regardless of what job they have.

“That’s the point of a mentally healthy workplace,” Baynton said, speaking at the Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace seminar in Sydney on Wednesday, March 8, sponsored by AIA Australia.

A psychologically healthy workplace is one where employees are not made to feel powerless or subjected to acts of hostility by supervisors, she explained. It’s one where employers recognise potential burnout and act quickly to prevent it. It’s also one where workers are supported in developing resilience.

Mental health status and having “energy left over” are not necessarily linked to an individual’s workload, Baynton said.

“If we’re working eight hours a day and we’re really energised, workload isn’t an issue,” she said. “That doesn’t [hold] if you’re working 80 hours a week. That’s just excessive work and that’s another story.”

Individuals in management positions need to take care of their own mental health just as carefully as the health of staff, Baynton said. But in all cases, an employer’s responsibility begins with understanding what impact the organisation is having on its employees and staff.

Guarding minds @ work

“We created a resource called Guarding Minds @ Work,” Baynton said. “It is to measure the psycho-social health and safety of the workforce – not from the personal perspective of how mentally healthy you are, but [instead focusing on] how we, as an employer, are affecting your mental health.

“So it’s things that are within the control of and [are] the responsibility of the employer. Because if I just measure whether you have depression or not, that may be genetics. But whether or not I am doing things that may increase depression is something I can control.

“What is the organisation’s impact? You get that information [from the survey] it’s a matter of [asking], ‘Why does that exist?’ We can tell you there’s an area that needs improvement, but you have to go back to your employees [and say], ‘We didn’t score high on psychological support. Here’s what it is, how could we do this better?”

Baynton said that in Canada, addressing workplace mental health issues has evolved beyond “a focus on people at risk, people with a diagnosis of mental illness”.

“We [used to want] to identify those people,” she said. “The evolution has been [realising] that we are those people, and that we need to protect what we call the psychological health and safety of everyone.”

Baynton said measurements of mental health and safety in the workplace began in Canada in 2009 and since then the proportion of Canadians deemed to be in “psychologically unsafe” workplaces has halved, to 10 per cent.

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The Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace seminar took place on March 8 at the Sydney office of Perpetual. It was produced by Conexus Financial, the publisher of Professional Planner and Investment Magazine, and sponsored by AIA Australia and SuperFriend.