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CEO Memo: Normalising conversations around mental health and wellbeing

By: Megan Motto FGIA, Chief Executive Officer, Governance Institute of Australia


Everyone should have a safe workplace environment. Not only is it a legal requirement, but research shows that workplace culture plays a bigger role than legislation when it comes to feeling psychologically safe. As business leaders, we are the key to defining and implementing the organisational policies, culture and strategies to make our employees feel safe and welcome.

Governance Institute strongly advocates for policies and strategies that encourage conversations around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Recently, a number of our staff participated in a workshop with the Black Dog Institute on Managing Team Wellbeing.

Black Dog has found that mental illness is estimated to cost Australian businesses more than $39 billion each year through a loss of productivity, absenteeism, and turnover. With one third of our adult lives spent at work and at least 1 in 6 Australians reporting mental health issues, there are huge personal and financial costs if a workplace environment is not fully supported by leaders.

For those squarely focused on the bottom line, employers save $4 for every $1 invested in workplace wellbeing.

The course was an opportunity to for us to gain an insight into how workplaces can have more effective conversations about mental health with colleagues.

A mentally healthy workplace takes action, continually promotes good mental health, manages risks and builds resilience. Enabling the space for workers to have safe conversations is vital in ensuring any behavioural changes are noticed sooner rather than later. Regular check-ins will help spot signs like low-energy, poor sleep, increased leave and presenteeism before issues become more embedded and serious. Again, Black Dog tells us that if an employee takes more than 45 consecutive days of sick leave, there’s only a 50% chance that person will return to the role.

The onus is on us as leaders to ensure that we initiate these conversations about mental health. Every employee is different and has their own concerns and ways of dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. It’s our job to ensure they have the supports in place whether it’s a friendly ear, access to EAP services or an environment that’s flexible enough to accommodate staff who are proactively managing their mental health.

September is an important month for mental health recognition. RUOK? Day on September 14 is a great reminder for us to start that conversation with a colleague or a friend to see if they need some support. We also acknowledge World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, which advocates for a worldwide commitment and action to ending suicide. The difference between a positive, supportive, workplace to a negative one could have an immense significance to a person’s life.

For governance and risk management leaders, now is a good time to reflect on your own policies in the workplace to ensure support is available. I encourage everyone to start the conversation and ‘check-in’ with one another.

Seeking help:

Lifeline: 13 11 14 24-hr telephone counselling, information and referral services

Black Dog Institute: Fact sheets for consumers, families and carers mental illness; Anonymous, validated screening tools for identifying depression and bipolar disorder

myCompass: An anonymous, confidential online support program shown in research trials to reduce the symptoms of moderate depression over 8 weeks of use; the tool tracks recovery and response to treatment as well as providing self-directed interventions.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP): Depression, anxiety, stress, substance abuse, problems or conflicts at work, family issues.



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