Mental Health Community of Practice
An event hosted by Comcare twice a year for workers and workplaces to come together to discuss issues and current evidence-based strategies related to workplace mental health.
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April 2023: Approaches for a Thriving Workplace
Approaches for a Thriving Workplace
Comcare held the Mental Health Community of Practice on 3 April 2023 which focused on Approaches for a Thriving Workplace.
This video features speaker Ross Iles, Associate Professor SuperFriend, who discussed emerging trends from the Indicators of a Thriving Workplace survey, a systems approach to organisational risk management, and strategies to effectively support workplace mental health.
- Presentation from April event
(PDF, 2.4 MB)
- Good work design
- Psychosocial hazards
- Work demands
September 2022: Wellbeing initiatives: Finding what fits
Wellbeing initiatives: Finding what fits
Comcare held the Mental Health Community of Practice on 7 September 2022 which focused on Wellbeing initiatives: Finding what fits.
This video features speakers Associated Professor Karina Jorritsma, Future of Work Institute - Curtin University; Erin Gooey, Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing - Medibank; Laura Sleeman, Director, Thriving Minds - Australian Tax Office; and Daniel Marklew, Assistant Director, Thriving Minds - Australian Taxation Office.
- Presentation from the September event
(PDF, 5.0 MB)
- Thrive At Work - Workplace Wellbeing Initiative
- Employee Health & Wellbeing - Medibank Careers
Additional questions and answers from the event
Q: Did you find these activities boosted morale in your workplace?
A: Our engagement scores did increase following the roll out of this program. Our surveys also tell us that there is a high level of satisfaction with the sessions themselves.
Q: Have you any program uptake stats that you can share please?
A: Program stats vary depending on the activity. Live activities were recorded, so people can log in and watch/rewatch at any time
Q: Have you done any cost/benefit analysis on this program? Have you been able to demonstrate a positive ROI for exec and others to ensure sustainability of the program.
A: Importantly for us, the ROI is about the health and wellbeing of our employees. There are a number of improved metrics including overall engagement and health and wellbeing scores in our engagement survey.
Q: Did you use any surveys for the needs assessment at the beginning or was the program purely staff's ideas?
A: This program was employee ideas entirely, though we did set a clear framework around what ideas would be considered. e.g. inclusive, aligned with our purpose, creative.
Q: What was the timeframe that these initiatives were implemented from conception to inception? Did you have a team of staff to put together and implement?
A: Each of the initiatives differed in timing. Things like dance classes and craftanoons were quick and easy to set up, whereas the Cookbook took many months of planning and preparation. The initiatives were bought to life by cross functional teams including the team or person that generated the idea and support from the wellbeing team.
Q: What kind of professional care is recommended for people who fit under "struggling"?
A: Early intervention is important at the struggling stage. We encourage our employees to reach out and make contact with supports - either connecting with their people leader, safety team, or supports such as EAP or Uprise.
Associate Professor Karina Jorritsma
Q: How do you ensure that initiatives are perceived in the way intended?
A: This is a great question and one that is still up for scholarly debate. My most simple answer is to first ask them/ to check in with employees/workers to see how initiatives are perceived.
The most commonly used scale for this was published by Nishii et al 2008 and I’ve provided an example below:
In this section, we would like to know your opinion about why your company has the personnel policies and practices it has. Please tell us the extent to which you agree with each of the statements below.
[Company name] provides employees [the xxx initiative] that it does:
1. in order to help employees deliver quality service to customers;
2. so that employees will feel valued and respected—to promote employee well-being;
3. to try to keep costs down;
4. because they are required to by the union contract;
5. in order to get the most work out of employees.
You can see here that this scale allows employees/workers to select from a range of reasons. It’s possible to utilise this scale or something similar, but ultimately also this could be done more informally.
The “what” leads to how people perceive HR practices is more complicated – it’s based on individual differences, information processing, and modes of delivery amongst other things. I’ve attached a really good scholarly paper around this which your CoP may or may not be interested in reading (if so in particular so the “why” section of the paper for the measurement/understanding of how people perceive initiatives).
The “how” section of the paper provides some further insights from research into what influences how initiatives are perceived. My takeaway would be through good and consistent communication from all levels of the organisation and clear and consistent messaging in key touchpoints for employees such as the strength of performance appraisals and workload models.
Reference: Employee perceptions of HR practices: A critical review and future directions
May 2022: What do you know about Diversity and Inclusion?
What do you know about Diversity and Inclusion?
Comcare held the Mental Health Community of Practice on 5 May 2022 which focused on What do you know about Diversity and Inclusion?
This video features speakers Professor Nareen Young from the University of Technology Sydney, Siobhan Brahe from NSW Department of Communities and Justice and Genevieve Quilty from Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
- Comcare's Reconciliation Action Plan 2021 - 2023
- Comcare's Accessibility Action Plan 2021 - 2023
- Gari Yala (Speak the Truth): Diversity Council Australia
- NSW DCJ: Inclusion Strategy 2021 - 2025
- Inclusion & Diversity - Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
November 2021: Post-COVID: Learnings for the workplace
Post-COVID: Learnings for the workplace
Comcare held the Mental Health Community of Practice on 30 November 2021 which focused on Post-COVID: Learnings for the workplace.
This video features speakers Professor Kimberley Norris from the School of Psychological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Kim Grady, Head of Group Safety, Wellbeing and Governance, Australia Post, and Dr Laura Kirby, Chief Mental Health Officer, Commonwealth Bank.
July 2021: Managing and Preventing Burnout in the Workplace
Managing and Preventing Burnout in the Workplace
Comcare held the Mental Health Community of Practice on 21 July 2021 which focused on Managing and Preventing Burnout a in the Workplace.
This video features speakers Professor Christina Maslach, Professor of Psychology (Emerita) University of California, and ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Sharon K Parker, John Curtin Distinguished Professor in Organisational Behaviour at Curtin University and Director of Centre for Transformative Work Design.
- Comcare's webpage on how managers can support worker mental health
- Centre for Transformative Work Design
- People at Work psychosocial risk assessment tool
November 2020: Addressing Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace
Addressing Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace
Comcare held the Mental Health Community of Practice on 11 November 2020 which focused on Addressing Stigma in the Workplace.
- Comcare's webpage on mental health stigma in the workplace
- Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace factsheet (PDF, 187.6 KB)
- National Stigma Report Card website.
Questions and answers from the event
Dr Chris Groot and Dr Michelle Blanchard
Q: We observe awareness days at my work, like RUOK? Day. How helpful are these to reducing stigma in the workplace?
MB: Awareness days can be important as they can bring attention to a particular issue. This can be important in starting a conversation, but sometimes people who are experiencing mental health issues can feel a bit like they are under the microscope. It’s important that we focus on ensuring that people affected by mental health issues feel valued and respected every day of the year.
Q: As the parent of a child that struggles with their mental health, I understand how difficult it is to accept and understand mental health issues. How can we reduce stigma in employment when even those that are close to people living with mental health issues struggle to come to terms with and understand what is happening?
MB: It is really challenging for families that are supporting a loved one who lives with a complex mental health issue.
The area in the Our Turn to Speak survey in where people said that they experienced stigma and discrimination the most was in their interpersonal relationships - relationships with those most close to them.
One of the missing pieces is support for families and carers. So much of the support that we provide in the mental health system is for the individual who is experiencing their mental health issue and very rarely do we engage families who often are doing the very best they can, but under really challenging and really trying circumstances.
Q: What can we do to support carers of people with mental health issues in the workplace?
MB: Unfortunately, family, friends and carers can also experience stigma. This may mean that they feel they cannot be open about their loved ones’ experiences and ask for the support and flexibility they may need, for example, time off to take a loved one to an appointment.
We need to ensure that carers can be open about their experiences in workplaces and feel safe and understood, have access to personal leave to support loved ones when needed, flexible work arrangements, access to EAP etc.
SANE is part of the Caring Fairly coalition which aims to address issues relating to economic security for carers who often find themselves financially disadvantaged due to their caring responsibilities and barriers to engaging in meaningful paid employment. For more information, visit Caring Fairly.
Q: How do you distinguish between interpersonal difficulties/personality clashes/genuine performance issues and stigma relating to symptoms/disclosure of a mental health condition?
CG: With some mental health conditions, certain signs and symptoms of these experiences could play out in terms of relationship and interpersonal difficulties. If this is occurring in the context of a workplace, then the fundamental aim would be to start a safe, open and honest discussion about what is going on for a person and to inquire around what sorts of supports they might need, honestly reflecting observations, and of course, concern. You could create a space where that person is able to have those discussions with another party, like a counselling service. It's all about inquiry as with so much of mental health.
Offering community-based mental health support is about noticing something different, that something's off and then opening up a discussion that portrays our concern - not our judgment.
R U OK? Day, for example, is founded on the premise that we can check in with each other, and through opening a discussion lead to a positive outcome. One of the fundamental strategies that one could apply here is to have that non-judgmental open discussion from a point of concern.
Q: Could you please share a risk framework and/or best practice examples of workplaces which have addressed stigma?
MB: The best place to look for resources on this is the Heads Up website. There are a range of tools and resources that employers might find useful.
SANE is also part of the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance which is working with the National Mental Health Commission to develop the National Workplace Initiative.
Q: Do you think the fact that people anticipate being treated unfairly leads them to believe that they have been treated unfairly? Is it a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy?
CG: We know that people anticipating being treated unfairly can lead them to withdrawing from opportunities, for example, not applying for a role, or putting themselves forward for a promotion. This can then mean that they are not considered for future opportunities, which may limit their participation further.
We need to ensure that when people put themselves forward, they are treated fairly and have a positive experience, so that they feel confident when future opportunities arise.
Q: What is the most helpful thing someone has said to you when returning to work after being unwell?
MK: It’s acknowledging that I have been unwell rather than avoiding the subject with an indifferent ‘good to see you back’. If it’s someone who I would have coffee with, organising a catch up and coffee and being proactive about providing support.
Also, instead of saying ‘just ask, if you need anything’, it’s better if the person asks, ‘Is there anything I can do?’
Q: How can we get people with lived experience of mental health issues involved in the development of work initiatives and policies, especially when some staff may not want people to know about the challenges they have experienced?
MK: If possible, try and identify a trusted champion who can support the process.
For face-to-face engagement, provide a safe environment, such as bringing in an external facilitator who has a background in working with people with the lived experience of mental illness. Also hold any meetings away from prying eyes, so people feel comfortable in attending.
Keep people engaged throughout the process with access to information and progress so it’s not just a one-off consultation.
Q: What do you think is the best way to incorporate mental health days into an organisation’s leave arrangements? How can we ensure staff feel safe and supported to benefit from these kinds of arrangements?
MK: There are two options. The first is to incorporate mental health into existing sick leave provisions and make it clear that leave entitlements can be used for both physical and mental ill health. The second is to have separate mental health leave which sends a signal that the organisation sees mental health as a priority.
Staff will feel safe and supported if they are comfortable speaking about mental health at work and this means managers not being judgemental when an application for mental health leave is submitted.
Q: What would you say to a person experiencing low to medium level mental health challenges that is thinking "she'll be right", and does not want to seek help?
MK: This is a difficult one. I wouldn’t avoid any further conversation, especially if the challenges are obvious to someone else.
Find ways of creating a space where you check in with the person and which aligns with how you would normally interact, for example, coffee, lunch, a walk. Chat about eating, sleeping, exercise, concentration and open the door for an ‘I’m not right” conversation. Talk about what you are observing and share your concerns.
Q: Do you believe most people do not understand mental illness unless they have experienced it themselves? I do, that is why I believe that lived experience stories are a vital element in mental health awareness training.
MK: People’s understanding of mental illness will vary. I agree that including lived experience is critical in mental health awareness training. It illuminates the facts and stats and provides a personal perspective that is deeply engaging.
Colonel Neanne Bennett
Q: Do you see a generational or gender difference in how stigma is viewed or perceived within Defence?
NB: It's an interesting question and it's a little bit hard to answer in the sense that Defence is a very male-dominated organisation. Typically, our response rates from research probably sit at around 13 to 15% for females.
In terms of access to care, I'm not sure that we see much difference there at all, however we do for presenting problems. Our data would suggest that females present a little bit more with the anxiety-related conditions and are less likely to have alcohol or substance use concerns.
There are also differences across the services in presentations as well. From a generational perspective, yes, there has been a shift since the time that I joined the Army. The way people talk about mental health has changed significantly, including people's willingness to actually seek people out and ask questions.
Our senior leaders have become very strong advocates for mental health. When I first joined, people would make jokes about, "Oh, I can't be seen talking to you since you’re an army psychologist. You don't know what people will say.” Whereas now everybody wants psychologists to come to the table and be part of a conversation, whether that's in terms of preparing for training, operational planning, etc. We are a constant request. That is a fabulous step forward and certainly reflects how far we've come in this journey.
Q: Once your current strategy is fully implemented, what would you like to do next to reduce stigma within Defence?
NB: We still have scope to improve what we're doing in our lived experience space. We are definitely working in that space, but I think we have capacity to standardise that and make it a more enduring framework.
Our next strategy will certainly be informed by the data that we collect as part of our continuous improvement, monitoring and evaluation. We have a number of programs but being able to use the information that we collect to see whether or not they're actually doing what we think they do, or whether we're targeting the right areas, will be really important. That will be a significant step in terms of what we do next to keep working in the stigma space.
Q: Is the strategy available online?
NB: Yes, you can find the strategy: Defence Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2018-2023 on the Defence website.
December 2019: Workplace Bullying
Legal frameworks surrounding bullying in the workplace—Cilla Robinson (Partner, Clayton Utz)
Workplace bullying—Michelle Tuckey (University of South Australia)
Preventing bullying at work—John Kovacic (Fair Work Commission)
May 2019: Improving Workplace Culture and Civility
Strengthening a culture of respect and engagement in the workplace—Professor Michael P Leiter (Deakin University) and Jo Wintle (Peoplescape)
Moving beyond wellbeing programs and mental health strategies—Karen Oldaker (Medibank)
Building thriving workplaces—Margo Lydon (Superfriend)
November 2018: Managing Organisational Change
Introduction to the Community of Practice—Natalie Bekis (Comcare)
The evidence of positive change management—Kirsten Way (Australian Catholic University)
Managing organisational change: a case study of transition of the Australian Astronomical Observatory—Clare McLaughlin (Department of Industry, Innovation and Science)
Getting ready for change in the digital disruption—Kylie Watson (Deloitte)
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