The Australian Industry Group has released research into workplace mental health conducted by Griffith University. The AiGroup claims it is a
“… a landmark study into mental health initiatives taken in local workplaces”.
It is far from it. Workplace mental health will only become more important in 2020 with reports due from the Productivity Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission. Sadly the AiGroup report gives inadequate attention to the prevention of work-related psychological harm even though this has been identified by some Australian mental health experts as the most cost-effective and sustainable business strategy.
The most obvious problem with the report is with this statement:
There is an article doing the rounds of some of the American newspapers called “Shaping culture to be psychologically healthy” by Bill Howatt. It is a solid article but illustrates some of the limited thinking common to advocates of psychological health in workplaces.
Howatt writes about establishing and managing a suitable culture through leadership, education, awareness and other activities. But organisational cultures operate within a larger pool of cultural contexts and, most importantly, business structures.
The latest edition of CEO Magazine contains a brief report of a workplace mental health breakfast seminar. It is written by John Karagounis, the CEO of the CEO Circle, the host of the seminar. Prominent speakers included Julia Gillard, Paul Howes and Georgie Harman, all associated with beyondblue. The prevention of mental ill-health at work is only inferred in this article, which reflects the dominant, and limited, perspective of most of the mental health sector. A deeper and broader analysis of workplace mental health is deserved.
However, the article included two statements of note. Clarification is being sought on this Karagounis statement:
In December 2019, it was announced that Professor Maureen Dollard had received funding to investigate “the impact of toxic workplaces on mental health”. The significance of this research is evident in the University of South Australia media release which describes this research as the “first of its kind in the world.
There seems to be a spate of intelligent and knowledgeable people talking about the structural changes required by businesses to reduce and prevent psychological harm. Two Australian voices are Lucinda Brogden and Dr Rebecca Michalak. New Zealand has Dr Hillary Bennett who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the New Zealand Workplace Health and Safety Awards. Bennett’s interview with SafeGuard magazine should be obligatory reading.
Bennett is asked about the Human Resource (HR) profession and nails a critical difference in the HR approach to the occupational health and safety (OHS) one: