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Moving beyond wellbeing programs and mental health strategies video transcript

For: Employers and managers Information seekers

Video transcript of presentation given by Karen Oldaker, Medibank at Comcare's Mental Health Community of Practice in May 2019.

View the video of Karen Oldaker's presentation.


Karen Oldaker:

Thanks Jill, and thank you for taking the time out of your day to hear a bit about Medibank, our journey and some of my philosophies and thinking around health and wellbeing in the workplace and beyond. It was interesting the conversation we're having before around workplace civility and as a healthcare company, we kind of ... we have to think about civility really carefully and I call it part of being human to be honest.

Karen Oldaker:

And I think sometimes we forget about being human and it's also about human centred design and the importance of thinking about every policy and procedure that we do from a human centred design perspective. But for me also it's about from a health lens, how can we as practitioners in this room, as organisations in this room and as one of the 25 million Australians in this room, how do we start to think differently about health and wellbeing in the workplace and beyond?

Karen Oldaker:

So I'm just going to spend a bit of time taking you back through what Medibank is or who we are. And I guess that gives us a bit of context of the why. So yes, we're a private health insurer, but we're also a health care company. We have over a third of our employees who are allied health professionals and we have the absolute pleasure and privilege, maybe not pleasure, but the privilege of working on such things as the 1-800-RESPECT line, domestic violence and rape.

Karen Oldaker:

We have the amazing job of supporting all the call as you come through to the beyond blue lines looking for assistance. We have over 700 nurses and GPS working from home, helping Australians with their health journey at any point in time, seven ... 20 ... 24/7. And we care for our customers in their own homes. And just recently I had an amazing experience of going out to a couple's house in Adelaide.

Karen Oldaker:

We've just acquired an organisation in Adelaide, HSS. And as I walked down the hallway, I just remembered looking at photos of the family, the dead balls, the weddings, the grandchildren. But what a privilege to be in somebody's home and to be trusted to come in there and to provide care when they're most at need. This person was having wound care after a hip replacement. And that gave her and her husband the ability to not really have to go out that day.

Karen Oldaker:

And I said to the customers, so what does it mean for you that we're here today providing health care in your home? And he said, I don't know how I would get her out of the house. And it would be a whole day of getting her there. And the stress of that is such an impact. I just walked away thinking, that's awesome. We just haven't actually helped the person who's had the injury or the illness. We've actually helped her family and her community.

Karen Oldaker:

So what you think about that whilst I'm talking about Medibank and some of those services right now, flip that and think what does it mean for your people? And maybe some of the people who we're giving care to might be your employees and what is that doing for their productivity in your workplace? So I want you to sort of challenge the thinking and the boundaries around an organisational's ... an organisation's responsibility or opportunity to really deeply care for your people.

Karen Oldaker:

And as we go back to the care in the home, we're really there at a really emotional time. So we have chemo in the home, we have palliative care in the home. So we look at that whole journey of well it's not really such a lineal journey of health but the journey of an individual's health and therefore we look at the employee within that journey as well.

Karen Oldaker:

So Joe referred to the purpose being really important and shared purpose, being critical to I guess a culture of an organisation and therefore civility. It also goes to the values of an organisation at the same time. And I'd be disappointed if respect wasn't one of your values as an organisation. You don't have to put your hand up if it isn't, but maybe reflect on that and go back and change it.

Karen Oldaker:

So our purpose is better health for better lives. What you can see up here is what I guess the three areas we think about for all of their products and services for our customers, prevention, choice and support. And that's all about staying true to our purpose. Out of all these, choice is something that we continuously talk about and challenge as part of our employee journey.

Karen Oldaker:

What can we do to ensure that our employees have choice over the way they interact with our workplace and therefore how they will interact with our customers? It's pretty important because if you don't have choice, it means you probably don't have control. If you don't have control, you need to question whether your employees have psychological safety at work.

Karen Oldaker:

So when we think about our aim to play an active role in keeping our customers or helping our customers take control of their health and wellbeing, we do the exact same things for our people. We kind of have to because if we don't, I think when we're missing one of the best opportunities as a broader community in terms of wellbeing and the health of Australians more generally.

Karen Oldaker:

So when we consider choice and therefore control for our employees and giving them a sense of, I guess self worth that they can bring their whole self to work. Diversity and inclusion is one of the fundamentals of any organisation to get right when it comes to civility or when it comes to psychological safety. So it's not just about diversity, it's absolutely about inclusion. Because if you don't have the inclusive part, you actually don't have the diversity.

Karen Oldaker:

So for us that means that we have, I'll just start walking now because I feel trapped behind there, so for us that means that we have the ability ... Is that working through there?

Gretchen:

[inaudible 00:06:25]. Yeah, that's it. Sorry, we've fixed it now. You can walk now.

Karen Oldaker:

Okay. So for us that means that we've actually implemented some policies that really provide real flexibility for our people and that provides them choice and that psychological safety that I was talking about. And a flex better program is one of those. So we have a whole range of flexible options for our people, where they work, when they work, how they work, at our office in itself. And the ... And I just went to the Canberra office yesterday and it's changed now.

Karen Oldaker:

It's got these stand up, you can shift around, it's got open environments. Our office in Melbourne is absolutely built around activity-based and collaboration and getting to know people, getting to know the community in which you work. It's really important. It's really important when it comes to that human centric, human centricity, assuming we're all being civil.

Karen Oldaker:

The flexible policy includes what we wear, when we wear it. Obviously always with limits when we're not customer facing so that you can actually really come as who you are and feel comfortable in your job because we're actually interested in what you can do here and here as opposed to how you present. So, that's just one aspect. And then we've just brought in parental ... new parental leave policy, which is around flex family. Acknowledging that every new parent regardless of gender has, should have or has open to them the choice of being active in that parental activity.

Karen Oldaker:

And so we have paid parental leave regardless of labels of secondary or primary carer. You can both be there together and caring for your child or you can take time off separately to care for your child. And for us it's kind of, it's the right thing to do, but it also starts to create a conversation and a movement that's beyond Medibank. This is again where I started to say think about what we can do as employers more broadly than the silos of your own organisation because think about the ramifications and the ripple effect and I'll continue to talk through that.

Karen Oldaker:

We're also one of the first organisations to bring in uncapped paid domestic violence support leave for our employees. And so it's, I guess it's those symbols and moments that matter for our people because you can have a whole lot of culture initiatives and you can have a whole lot of programs out there. But if you're actually not there for the moments that matter, then it's really hard to stand there and say we deeply care about you as an employee. So think about as leaders and your leaders and you and your roles, what are the moments that matter for your people?

Karen Oldaker:

The individual moments that matter because every single one of them has a story. So what does it mean for our people? It's interesting, Joe, you mentioned burnout. I don't know whether anyone read in the last week, but the world health organisation has in the last seven days or just say 10, just to be safe because I'm being videoed is that burnout is now recognised as a medical condition specific to workplaces.

Karen Oldaker:

So I think we actually have to do something more broadly than a mental health strategy. And I think we have to do something more broadly as a social impact and a movement that we in this room and on the screen up here and all the rooms out there have such power to do. So I'm going to kind of want to, that lone nut, I want everyone to move in and take on the movement. This is an aspiration we started with a couple of ... a little while ago as we started to think about if we really truly want to be a health organisation and we really truly want to make sure that our employees believe in what we do, then how do we bring our purpose and make it inside out?

Karen Oldaker:

That we actually deeply care about our people because that's culture. You can have culture programs and you can have a whole lot of things. But if you actually not walking the walk and you're actually saying, well we're selling this product and we're doing all these amazing things out there and so we'll train you on how to deliver it and we'll train you on how to pick up those calls and we'll train you on and we'll train you on, but we're actually not ... It's not resonating with them because they're not feeling the love.

Karen Oldaker:

Then we kind of ... It's kind of the return on investment gets a bit dodge. So our aspiration and it's a bit long so it doesn't actually go up to all of our employees. But this is what we think about when we're designing any programs or policies for our employees as the people and culture team and how we talk to our senior leadership teams. Is that we will help our employees prioritise their health and wellbeing so that they can live a better, healthier life and support friends and family and community to do so also.

Karen Oldaker:

So I think in the past what we had always looked at is what is a health and wellbeing strategy, what are we going to do for our people? How are we going to create the best work environment we can create? And then we started to do some care in the home programs. And at the end of this, I've got a bit of a video. And it's the story of that we've really truly helped in those critical times and the ripple effects that that's made. So how can we start to get the ripple effect of our employees out to their community and to their friends and out to their family?

Karen Oldaker:

Because, that's probably going to help everyone else in terms of an employer out there. So this is again, this social impact we can make. And how we do that is we look at the intent. So, and I'm not going to read that in total, but it's, we are a healthcare company. We're committed to helping Australians in their health and wellbeing. And we need our customers to really feel that through our employees and our employees, to really feel that through us.

Karen Oldaker:

We want in the mindset of our employees is to really believe and feel, not just believe, feel and understand that we deeply care about them and we care about their families. Hence, having a community component within my own role that the four areas that I look after is health and safety, employee health management, workplace relations. So we do see a bit of instability every now and then and community. So how do we interact with our community and create better places out there?

Karen Oldaker:

So then the capability of our people is, that we're looking for people to be human centred. We're looking for them to be adaptable and future orientated. That's the type of people we need and therefore it links into our employee value proposition and message out to market for new roles, career so when we're bringing them in, we're already starting with, this is the DNA of Medibank.

Karen Oldaker:

The other thing I was reading on the plane over here yesterday and it was a very bumpy ride, so I hope that I still get some more hours left as I was going up and down in that plane was that we as some of the 13 million people who work in Australia today will spend 90000 hours at work in our lifetime. And I was going to calculate how many hours I've got left. I don't think I can cope with the truth right now. So, and I think that was good for my mental health.

Karen Oldaker:

So, again, I sort of had this thing was 90000 hours, 12 million people in a workplace. 12 million, people every employer could honestly impact in terms of health. And yet, I don't know if I've ever seen, and maybe this is my little wish, and aim is that how many organisations have a corporate social responsibility team? So what do you do in community, what are your community partners? Anyone?

Karen Oldaker:

You do nothing in the community. You have no size social licence to operate. I don't believe that. I'm pretty sure that if you went and had a look in your websites and you looked at what do you ... what does your organisation do for community, there would be something in there. And so what we haven't really tapped into is the power in this room and the power of employers and the power of the impact, the social impact of employee's health, that then has a ripple effect onto the 25 million people that live in Australia.

Karen Oldaker:

How cool would that be? What other purpose would you get from your jobs if you start thinking about, so what is my role? Well, here's the thing. I work in this organisation X, but I am making an impact to 25 million Australians right now because we have just implemented this policy that is allowing our employees to take time off. That then allows their partners to take the time they need to be better at their workplace. Gives me goosebumps.

Karen Oldaker:

I just think, recognise the power we have and it's a long journey and I think we can get there. I think the opportunity there, if you do have salary continuance and some do, some don't. It's not a big thing in Australia, but it is if you're an American company, salary continuance helps employees at their worst time. But what it didn't do when we took over the management of it, it was really counterintuitive and it was basically saying if you're off for three months, you can start to put in for your salary continuance.

Karen Oldaker:

But if you try to come back to work within that time, well you'll need to start back at day one. Now for anyone in this room who was part of injury management or any health background, you know that's actually going to impair the opportunity for that individual to come back sooner, healthier and better. So we challenged our insurers and we made the policy different. We added in early intervention, we added in the fact that they could come back on a gradual return to work plan, but still be eligible for their insurance.

Karen Oldaker:

So again, you've got to challenge the boundaries of whatever you're working within challenge them. Think about it, what does it mean from holistic health of your people? How can you change whatever you do ... whatever your employer, your organisation is doing for your people, that will have a ripple effect because now I can tell you that the insurance companies we're working with are offering that to other employers and that's awesome. We also ask our own people to hack their health.

Karen Oldaker:

So this is about getting people to start talking openly about what they do to make a difference. And that might be, actually working from home today because I'm going to go and pick up my kids from school. That's great. Fantastic. I can tell you 10 years ago that would not have been an okay conversation. That would have been career suicide. She's going up to look after the kids today. That just can't happen. You need to leave loudly. You need to promote and be the flexible person that your teams are looking up to. You need to be the authentic leader.

Jill:

Karen, now, thank you so much. That was incredibly moving and you had my heart and head with you I think most of the time through your presentation and on the head piece, I was reflecting all through your presentation about the fact that health and wellbeing is much bigger than mental health but that we ignore mental health at our peril and that the impact of our workplace is much bigger than the impact of just the employees or the impact on just the employees of our workplace but it's much bigger.

Jill:

But that said, I think there's a lot of content there that Karen has given us in terms of food for thought. There is that time for questions and discussion. So I'll just check in first with Gretchen whether we've got ...

Gretchen:

We're good.

Jill:

We're good at the moment. So folk here in Canberra, any questions or thoughts or even just reflections for Karen and you might have questions about Medibank and how it supports its staff because obviously you've been on a real, quite a journey there and some changes really quite recent as you've noted in terms of thinking about the employee experience or you might have questions for Karen herself about her own experience, which she's so generously I think opened up and shared. So questions here from folk in front of me in Canberra first.

Jill:

While people are still thinking I will feel the void for a minute, which is I think Karen, given some of the examples you've provided, like the parental leave policy in Medibank and the openness of that policy to different carers simultaneously, not at the same time. So mom and dad together or not and the flexibility that you've talked about. I could imagine that there might be some people who could hear that and say, well that's easier for a large organisation like Medibank, whereas my organisation's only small.

Jill:

We can't afford that flexibility or we think we can't afford that flexibility. What would you say to a reflection like that or a question like that?

Karen Oldaker:

Thanks Jill. I'd say we can't afford not to. And so being in a top 100 organisation and some of our policies we pushed through and we leverage into the male champions of change so that we are really trying to be a voice for other organisations or a movement. Because if we could get all the top 100 starting to think like this, that will help all the smaller organisations. So in the last 12 months I've had, in the last six months, I've had two the blokes in my organise ... in my workplace, in my group take parental leave.

Karen Oldaker:

That meant that their partners were able to go back to their workplaces. So their work places were actually getting that. Now, they might not be able to afford that. But we actually helped them. This is what I say about this social movement and impact. So I think we have an obligation as large organisations to step up.

Jill:

Any further ... Question from Natalie and then a question down the back.

Natalie:

I guess to extend on that, Karen, how do you manage outcomes in an environment like that, that's so fluid and so flexible? What sort of advice can you give to people? Obviously we come to work, we're expected, we're measured, we've got to deliver. How have you gone about that and what has that meant in terms of the culture and what advice could you give to other people?

Karen Oldaker:

It's a really challenging one to be quite honest because it requires a different leadership style and it requires trust. And sometimes as leaders we're not good at that and we need to let go and to think about those outcomes. So what is it that we're employing that person to do and what are the outcomes that we're expecting them to achieve within the day, within the week, within the month, within the year. And it's actually outcomes driven.

Karen Oldaker:

Now some parts of our business is not as easy as that in a call centre environment, for instance. So we're really ... It's a challenging area and I know a lot of the people in this room will have that kind of area. And the, I guess the traditional setup of a call centre is that you are sort of tied to a phone. But that means that we need to be flexible in other ways in terms of when they start, how they work, where they work, and really think about the job design around that.

Karen Oldaker:

I can say it wasn't that long ago that we really didn't have many part-timers in our call centres. I don't know what we were thinking, but we've changed that. So it's really starting to think about, well who are the people who are right for this role and how do they need to work within it? So there's different flexibility. Not every opportunity that we have or benefit is available for everyone, but there should be a mix that they get something. The choice. So it is outcomes driven. It's trust and it's a lot of leadership discussions.

Speaker 5:

Hi, thanks for your talk. You mentioned early on that a third of your employees are allied health professionals and over 700 are nurses and GPs. Do you find that those employees have different needs to others? Do you try to take a tailored approach?

Karen Oldaker:

Yep, always. So when we look at any of our program roll outs, we look at every type of work environment. Not just the function or the business unit, but do they work from home? Are they on the road? Are they in a call centre environment? Are they allied health professionals? Because they'll take different advice differently than someone in a corporate support role.

Karen Oldaker:

So we absolutely need to tailor the conversations and the way in which we deliver information out there. Working from home is probably one of the most challenging environments from a mental health perspective. And so there's a lot of work that goes into communicating with our employees through the clinical leads and also through social media like Yammers and the likes. So that communication, that's free flowing in between.

Karen Oldaker:

Because what we also know from a mental health perspective or a domestic violence perspective, sometimes the first inkling that you have that something's not right is by the way they present but when they're working from home, you're not actually seeing often how they're presenting. So there has to be a strong relationship with their manager and the conversations that can start to be built up in a different way.

Karen Oldaker:

And we're also looking at how do we create connected communities. So who works in Dubbo? And if it was a nurse triage, if it was a home care person and one of our retail stores, how could we get them to connect not virtually, but physically? So we're actually having those discussions at the moment. So it's all about community.

Page last reviewed: 15 March 2020
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Date printed 24 Sep 2021

https://www.comcare.gov.au/about/forms-publications/transcriptions/moving-beyond-wellbeing-programs-and-mental-health-strategies-video-transcript