Mental Health and Wellbeing – A consultative approach
By: Theresa Grainger
Head of Learning & Development
It is no longer enough for organisations to just offer an Employment Assistance Programme (EAP) and healthcare benefits. While this support is important, it is a reactive service rather than a proactive way of operating. Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing is essential to finding and retaining top talent and key to a positive employee experience. A workplace with a proactive and supportive Wellbeing Framework enables employee engagement, drive, creativity, and commitment.
There are many factors that contribute to good mental health and wellbeing. Starting within the organisation and reflecting on the hire to retire cycle, we know things like good work design and workflow, clear expectations, meaningful and valued work contribution, and opportunities to develop capability and a pathway to personal growth are important. Weaved within that is a sense of belonging, good social relationships and team dynamics, a positive leadership experience, trust, and a sense of commitment to the organisation’s vision and purpose.
There are also external factors organisations can support but have minimal control over. For example, an individual’s financial wellbeing, trauma, marriage and relationship difficulties, unexpected health conditions and as most of us have experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, unpredictable Government actions and economic instability.
A good way to consider what impacts an employee’s Mental Health and Wellbeing is anything relating to an individual’s internal (mental) and external (environment) world that could generate a response in how they perceive, feel, and behave. It is important to understand your role as a leader is not to be a Mental Health and Wellbeing expert, it is to create a psychologically safe working environment, where someone who may be struggling feels safe to speak up. Creating a safe space and developing a proactive framework that has both internal processes to protect the mental wellbeing of workers and access to external resources and support is key to the mitigation of harm and promotion of mental health and overall wellbeing.
Organisations have a duty of care to assess potential sources of harm and consider ways to support and prevent harm. It is important to note that due to employee diversity, their life experiences and variation to how they perceive and interact with the world, how we assess and control risks is not a ‘one size fits all’. While it is essential to have an integrated Health, Safety, and Wellbeing System, how we approach different types of harm will vary. Under the Health and Safety Work Act, we have a responsibility to eliminate, so far as reasonably practicable, the likelihood and consequence of harm, and ensure we have control measures proportionate to risk.
The standard hazard identification and risk assessment tools do not always support the subjective nature of Mental Health and Wellbeing. What does remain the same, and in my opinion, is even more important, is the legal responsibility organisations have to engage with employees, to provide opportunities to participate in improving workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing in an ongoing basis. I say this because human perception plays a critical role in the assessment of psychological harm and the presence of risk in an identified stressor may be true for one individual and not for another.
Some people have a higher level of resilience and have developed their own strategies to positively manage stress. Our ability to self-care, regulate our emotions and develop both social and emotional competencies vary from person to person. Individuals also have varying levels of self-esteem and self-confidence, so how leaders engage with their teams and how team members engage with each other is critical in the creation of a work environment that promotes heath.
Focusing on communicating with people rather than solutioning a perfect survey or assessment tool is what will be the essential ingredient in developing a healthy working environment. Through a consultative approach, context of industry and occupational specific risks and the variation in perception will be uncovered.
Over time, it is important to evolve from a standalone initiative to a way of operating and normalising the Mental Health and Wellbeing conversation. This is where the PDCA cycle (Plan, Do Check and Act) comes into play.
A robust Mental Health and Wellbeing Framework, looks beyond the way an individual is perceiving and processing their experience to a wider context of an organisation’s cultural, strategic, and financial health. The below questions, however, are specific to aspects of an individual’s work experience and physical, emotional, intellectual, and social wellbeing.
From my own personal experience, I have found when engaging in this type of questioning, the level to which a team is willing to be open and transparent reflects where their organisation and/or team is in their level of maturity to embed a Mental Health and Wellbeing Framework. For example, if the maturity is high and an organisation is proactive in building, developing and actively improving resilience rather than responding when already in stress and crisis, the willingness to engage in conversation is greater.
The first question to ask your team is would they prefer to engage in the questions below as a team and have an open dialogue on the findings, highlighted patterns and collaborate on solutions, or would they prefer their repose to be kept in confidence and engage in a one-to-one conversation with their manager? Whether the questions are answered in confidence or as a team activity, the framing remains the same and that is to communicate that the information is to be used purely to identify areas where mental health and wellbeing can be enhanced and to help inform the development and/or improvement of the overarching wellbeing programme.
Please click here to take the Employee Wellbeing Pulse Check
ISO45003 Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks – https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/#iso:std:iso:45003:ed-1:v1:en
First Steps – Activate Tāmaki Makaurau https://firststeps.nz/
5 ways to wellbeing – https://mentalhealth.org.nz/five-ways-to-wellbeing
EMA Community Platform – https://community.ema.co.nz
WorkSafe supporting mentally healthy work – https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/laws-and-regulations/operational-policy-framework/worksafe-positions/supporting-mentally-healthy-work/
Business Leaders Health and Safety Forum – https://forum.org.nz/resources/ceo-guide-mental-wellbeing
For more information, please connect with us at:
Phone 0800 300 362