DEI and mental health initiatives are both critical to fostering psychosocial safety. By consolidating their approach to these two areas, this organisation is building a healthier, more resilient workforce.
Since the introduction of new employer responsibilities to foster psychosocial safety at work, the concept of workplace wellbeing has taken on new dimensions.
Employers and their people are increasingly aware that workplace mental health initiatives cannot be confined to once-a-year workshops; instead, they must be woven into every aspect of organisational strategy, from change management to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – and that needs to start from the top.
One such organisation is Australia Post (AusPost). Last year, the company appointed its inaugural CMHO, Simon Brown-Greaves, who has since facilitated a wide range of wellbeing frameworks to support the diverse needs of AusPost’s 60,000+ employees.
“I was very fortunate to come in when the team had [already] done a huge amount of work on the mental health strategy,” says Brown-Greaves. “I was really pleased to see so many initiatives around the business. I [also] could not have asked for a better and more supportive leadership group.”
Brown-Greaves will be speaking at AHRI’s upcoming Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference on 31 October about the mechanics of a top-down mental health strategy and its intersections with diversity and inclusion.
Enhancing psychosocial safety from the top down
While few employers would dispute the importance of workplace mental health in driving success, research suggests wellbeing may still be too far down on most leaders’ to-do lists; according to a report from Job Access, mental health inaction is costing Australian businesses almost $11 billion per year.
“We know there are high levels of psychological distress in the community, especially in young people and particular population groups,” says Ruth Vine, Australia’s first Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, who will be speaking alongside Brown-Greaves at AHRI’s DEI conference.
“We also know the impacts of COVID-19 are still being felt, and workplaces have changed for many. Understanding and responding to these issues is critical.”
Navigating organisational transformation in the aftermath of the pandemic has been one of the central objectives of Australia Post’s mental health strategy in the past few years. After serious disruption to its workforce triggered by COVID-19, bushfires and floods, AusPost saw an opportunity to implement a holistic risk management strategy to support its frontline staff.
“It’s all about providing meaningful work for people, however they identify and [whatever] their inclusion needs are.” – Simon Brown-Greaves, Chief Mental Health Officer at Australia Post
The initiative launched to address this challenge, the WorkEsteem program, involved the establishment of a people and culture psychological health and safety working group, bringing individuals together from HR, wellbeing and OH&S teams – a strategy recognising the value of an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to psychosocial safety.
These teams worked collaboratively to identify lead workplace indicators that might predict psychosocial risks. They then followed a staged approach to manage these risks through proactive and reactive surveying, action plan development and evaluation mechanisms.
“This program is a very evidence-based approach to helping local areas understand what their requirements are and what they need to do to make themselves as psychologically safe as they can possibly be,” says Brown-Greaves.
The success of the program ultimately led to Australia Post receiving the Workplace Mental Health Award at last year’s AHRI Awards. The program is still in place today, and the response from those involved has been overwhelmingly positive, he says.
“People just relish the opportunity to stop, reflect, analyse and really think about what they need to do collectively to improve the quality of workplace relationships and get on top of things that might be having a negative impact on the wellbeing of the team.”
The intersection of mental health and DEI
When it comes to psychological safety, Brown-Greaves points out mental health initiatives have many of the same objectives as DEI strategies.
“It’s all about providing meaningful work for people, however they identify and [whatever] their inclusion needs are. And that dovetails beautifully into the idea that inclusive workplaces, where people feel confident to express their views and be themselves, tend to be psychologically safe workplaces.”
Because of this, it’s crucial for organisations to consider their mental health strategies in the context of their DEI strategies, and vice versa.
“We have a mental health council at Australia Post which consists of internal and external key stakeholders, and our diversity and inclusion team are part of that mental health council, which means we’re in each other’s pockets on a day-to-day basis,” he says.
One of the benefits of entwining DEI and mental health is the possibility of merging employee data sets for a more well-rounded perspective on issues facing the workforce.
“Integrating all of those data sets into an overarching performance metric is really important. We also do a quite substantial engagement and opinion [survey] on a regular basis… We ask specific questions about people’s sense of inclusion, participation and engagement.
“That informs where our gaps might be, or where we’ve got parts of the business that need different levels of attention or support when it comes to issues around both mental health and diversity and inclusion.
“If we, for example, had a downturn in a workplace in terms of their feelings of psychological safety, or their feelings of inclusion, you can be reasonably sure that will be correlated with other needs or other issues that will need attention.”
Dr Vine has also noted a trend towards organisations taking a more holistic approach like this to mental health.
“In general, I think there is recognition of the value add of including a range of views and perspectives into the workplace at all levels,” she says.
She suggests organisations break down the various facets of DEI before they consider their correlation to mental health.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are all important considerations. My advice would be to consider them separately. They each encompass different aspects of our expectations of workplaces and indeed of our broader expectations of the society in which we live.”
For instance, a workforce comprising individuals from different ethnic backgrounds, age groups and genders (diversity) can be a driver of high psychological safety, but this might not be the case if certain employees are facing obstacles in career advancement and fair compensation (equity) or feel excluded or unheard in decision-making processes (inclusion).
By analysing these distinct areas, employers can more easily identify pain points that could be hindering employees’ sense of psychological safety.
According to Brown-Greaves, the outcomes of both mental health and DEI initiatives are often dictated by the extent to which employees can relate to them.
“The key to success is [getting] the engagement of the broader workforce and, secondly, making sure the focus is on real jobs, meaningful work, and treating and enabling people to be part of the team,” he says.
“We’ve got so many workplaces where our team members are so proud of both the brand and the work they do, and the way in which they’re inclusive of people who may struggle to find meaningful work in other environments. We have a great deal of pride around the business in enabling that.”
There’s still time to register for AHRI’s virtual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conference on 31 October and hear from Simon Brown-Greaves, Ruth Vine and more. Register today.