Helping managers make our workplaces more mentally healthy

Depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders seem to be ever increasing in the workplace.

Associate Professor Samuel Harvey, Chief Psychiatrist at Black Dog Institute

Associate Professor Samuel Harvey, Chief Psychiatrist at Black Dog Institute

Poor mental health is affecting the lives of more and more of our colleagues. The good news is most conditions are often treatable and preventable. If managers and supervisors understand the risks and recognise the signs and symptoms, they can help support at-risk employees earlier and assist with their recovery. 

For icare, building and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace is part of a good safety culture. That is why icare Foundation is funding research, development, capacity building and scaling in a range of different mental health initiatives. 

Early intervention is the key, with emerging research indicating that support and interventions at the manager or supervisor level are one of the most important strategies workplaces can implement to get early intervention happening with mental health issues.

The Black Dog Institute is a world leader in mental health research, community and schools education, and workplace training. The partnership is a natural fit: the Foundation has funded a number of workplace-based programs since June 2017, including $360,000 towards the development of HeadCoach.

HeadCoach is a world-first online training program for managers developed by the Black Dog Institute, University of NSW and University of Sydney in partnership with BeyondBlue and the Movember Foundation. It aims to improve managers’ confidence to effectively respond to the needs of staff experiencing mental health issues and implement evidence-based managerial techniques that promote a more mentally healthy workplace. 

As part of the HeadCoach research, the manager training program was trialled with 120 managers from three organisations, including Coates Hire, a large equipment hire company with over 150 locations across Australia.

Barney Smith, General Manager of icare Foundation, is very pleased with the results which showed – for the first time – how a simple, evidence-based and tailored online mental health program can be effective and scalable in the workplace setting.

“Through our support of the HeadCoach trial, the Black Dog’s Workplace Mental Health Research Program has been able to further their research and improve the mental wellbeing for the workers who interacted with their technologies and training,” says Barney. 

Chief Psychiatrist at Black Dog Institute, Associate Professor Samuel Harvey, said HeadCoach is the first program delivered entirely online that integrates both preventive and responsive strategies to help managers create a more mentally healthy workplace.

“Mental illness costs the Australian economy up to $12 billion per year, through sickness absence, reduced productivity, workers compensation claims and staff turnover,” says Sam.

“Our team worked with e-learning specialists to transform face-to-face manager training content into a user-friendly online platform containing interactive activities, short videos, practical exercises and small snippets of text. “The result are flexible, easily accessible and engaging. Importantly, because of the Foundation’s funding of a robust research evaluation, we know this program works in the real world.”

Prior to its involvement wity the pilot, Coates Hire only provided access to standard employer assistance programs. But, according to Kate Robinson, Health and Wellbeing Manager, they recognised it wasn't enough to meet the growing need for mental health support, and as a business they wanted to do more. 

"We understand managers are the frontline in being able to support their employees," Kate says.

The online program helped Coates Hire managers recognise warning signs, such as when someone suddenly becomes withdrawn, guidance on how to have a conversation about mental health, and how to refer employees to other support services when necessary. It also guided managers on how to reduce the impact of modifiable mental health risk factors present in the workplace. 

Kate feels they are better placed to manage mental health issues in the workplace and, in particular, tackling the stigma. 

"That means maintaining confidentiality, picking the right times to have a conversation and learning how to make adjustments in the workplace," she says.

Tagged in: