Marian Spencer, head of operations, people and culture at Black Dog Institute, offers a guide to the framework that won her organisation the Alan Fels Mental Health Award at the 2019 AHRI Awards.
When you set out to establish a clear strategy that positively impacts workplace culture you come up against a mountain of information, buzzwords and initiatives. All of this information could be useful and relevant to your organisation, or none of it could be. And if you want to do more than tick a few boxes and make token gestures, like hosting a yoga class, it can be hard to know where to start.
Black Dog promotes and researches workplace mental health. We have produced several evidence-based resources to assist businesses in implementing healthy workplace policies and go to great lengths to practice what we preach.
We have created a framework that is structured around the evidence-based five ways to wellbeing’ approach, alongside six key domains that have been shown to influence workplace mental health. To make the biggest impact on your workplace culture, strategies that address each of the six key domains and the ‘five ways to wellbeing’ are needed at the individual, team and organisational level.
This is a basic framework, it is not detailed but rather presented to give you an idea of what you should be looking to do. Employers can tailor their approach to fit their needs. I also encourage you to seek feedback from your employees.
The six key domains
Put simply, the mental health of a workplace can be enhanced by minimising the impact of known workplace risk factors and maximising the impact of potential protective factors. Using the best available evidence, Black Dog’s workplace mental health research team concluded there are six key domains workplaces need to address to maximise mental health. (You can check out Black Dog’s research into mental health here.)
Strategies that address each domain will vary depending on the type and size of the workplace, and will include training, mental health literacy, HR practices, policy implementation, social connectivity and information dissemination.
The key domains are identified were:
- Job/work design: You need to create clarity and sustainability in the roles you design, as well as enhancing flexibility and ensuring employees have appropriate levels of control to meet the demands of their role.
- Promotion of protective factors: Enhance organisational justice, implement anti-bullying policies and effective change management. And make sure managers receive adequate leadership training.
- Early intervention: Promote and facilitate ways for staff to seek help early. Implement mental health policies, employee assistance programs and peer support schemes.
- Support for recovery from illness: This includes: supervisor support and training, return to work programs and access to reasonable adjustments, such as flexible working arrangements.
- Building resilience: Provide stress management and resilience training, coaching, mentoring and worksite physical activity programs. Also, encourage self-care. This is important now more so than ever.
- Increases awareness: Provide mental health literacy training and specific training to managers, and actively engage in awareness programs, such as RU OK Day and World Mental Health Day.
Five evidence based ways to wellbeing
In 2008, the UK Government commissioned the New Economics Foundation to develop a set of evidence-based actions to improve personal wellbeing. The concept of wellbeing comprised two elements: feeling good and functioning well.
In order to maximise protective factors, the Black Dog framework for mental health and wellbeing implements strategies that address each of the ‘Five ways to wellbeing’.
- Connect: Provide opportunities for employees to socialise and get to know each other.
- Be active: Provide opportunities for regular physical activity and group activities to help people connect.
- Take notice: Promote self-awareness and being in the present. Provide access to guided mindfulness.
- Keep learning: Learning enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction. Provide learning and development opportunities, both professional programs and those that come from more casual social interactions.
- Give: Research shows that kindness and “giving” is associated with increased wellbeing. Provide opportunities for staff to contribute to a worthy cause.
Direct staff input
Employee engagement surveys measure and assess how engaged and motivated your employees are and provide insight into their thoughts and attitudes toward their workplace. Implementing strategies that respond to peoples’ troubles and promote what people want addresses the unique and specific nature of your workplace. It’s a critical way of shaping a positive workplace culture.
Recognising that people are our most precious asset, the Black Dog framework puts them at the centre of the workplace and requires strategies that address the key domains and the ways wellbeing can be implemented at an individual, team and organisational level.
If you do this, you will have highly functioning, engaged, employees who really enjoy coming to work. You will also have a highly functioning organisation and a mentally healthy workplace culture.
Have you implemented something similar in your organisation? Do you have a success story in how you created a positive mental health workplace? Share in the comment section below.