Culture before resilience: Mental Health advocate, Lucy Brogden AM

We need to hone in on workplace culture if we are to shift the dial on workplace mental health, according to National Mental Health Commissioner, Lucy Brogden AM.

National Mental Health Commissioner, Lucy Brogden AM

National Mental Health Commissioner, National Mental Health Commission, Lucy Brogden AM

Addressing attendees at Risk Education eXpress' Mental Health Peer Connect launch webinar, Brogden stressed that "culture eats strategy for breakfast". 

"What are the behaviours we're rewarding? What do we tolerate? What do we turn a blind eye? These things are really telling in (a workplace) culture," she said.

According to estimates, workplace mental ill-health costs Australian workplaces between $13 billion and $17 billion per year in absenteeism and presenteeism. 

"Workplaces have an incredible opportunity to protect people's wellbeing and prevent illness. What we know is, that if we don't get that right, it can be incredibly expensive to the workplace," Brogden said. 

Brogden: The design of healthy workplaces needs six key ingredients

  1. Smarter work design
  2. Promoting and facilitating early help-seeking and early intervention
  3. Building a positive and safe work culture
  4. Enhancing personal and organisational resilience
  5. Supporting recovery
  6. Increasing the awareness of mental illness and reducing stigma

Reduce negative workplace culture before introducing programs to build resilience

 "I understand the need for resilience for our first responders and those of who go to work unsure of what they're going to face on any given day. And you need strategies for that. But for those of us in more professional service-type roles, if our organisations are thinking about resilience training, I really ask them to think about what it is in their organisations that they're asking people to become resilient for?" Brogden said.

"Because generally it's something that's not right in the workplace that we're asking people to overcome. I would rather they address the cultural and structural issues than try and give people skills to overcome something that's not right."

Discussing the role of Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAiders) in the workplace, Brogden stressed the importance of being aware of cultural issues within organisations and teams.

"Through this new Mental Health Peer Connect platform, you might be able to think about ways you can support each other in identifying elements of culture that might need to be discussed in the context of supporting each other and creating a more positive environment," Brogden said.

"In 2020 I still hear organisations not appreciate that they have a legal obligation to provide a psychologically-safe work environment, and this is disappointing. But it's also a challenge for us to ensure that level of literacy and awareness and understanding of compliance obligations that we have."

"What we need to create in our workplaces is a safe place where people can be who they really are," she added.

Designing healthy workplaces, according to Brogden, means looking at the cognitive, psychosocial and physical elements of a role, and bringing them all together to create work that is meaningful, psychologically and physically safe, and motivating. 

icare's Mental Health Peer Connect helps Mental Health First Aiders play their part in building mentally healthy workplaces by providing them with a space to share and collaborate on issues affecting their workplace, seek expert guidance, upskill and enhance their knowledge with the latest practice and research.

"It’s so important that Mental Health First Aiders have a support system, so they know they’re not alone," said Sharon Johnson, icare's Client Education Lead, Agency Engagement.

"Mental Health Peer Connect not only supports Mental Health First Aiders as individuals, but it's designed to build them up with skills and knowledge that they in turn can use to help shape mentally healthy workplaces now and into the future," she added.