In order to create a ‘mentally well workplace’, there is a need to educate all employees about how to manage their own mental health, and how to help others do the same. Not everyone needs to or should be trained as a Mental Health First Aider, but everyone needs a basic level of knowledge around mental health, says Tina Winchester, the Director of Mental Health and Employee Assistance Programs at Mentally Well Workplaces (MWW). MWW create evidence-based mental health training courses and encourage companies to invest in the mental health of their employees.
Tina has significant experience in mental health and psychiatric services in both Australia and the UK, including management roles in inpatient and community services. A regular keynote speaker invited to address both domestic and international audiences, Tina is a passionate and committed mental health advocate pushing to drive change and end the stigma of mental health in workplaces and communities.
In this exclusive interview, she talks about the vision of Mentally Well Workplaces and addresses the key ways in which companies can implement mental health strategies in the workplace.
What motivated you to start Mentally Well Workplaces?
Tina Winchester: We were motivated to establish Mentally Well Workplaces because 45% of Australians between the ages of 16-85 will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Workplaces are where we spend most of our time: our peers, managers, and employers are in a unique position to reach and support us when we’re not travelling so well.
I strongly believe a ‘mentally well’ workplace will have employees with knowledge of mental health and mental illness who provide support to their co-workers when they need it. Many workplaces do not know where to start, so our motivation was to create evidence-based programs and services that give organisations a starting point. We want organisations to be able to create and sustain mentally well environments, which begins with employees learning about mental health.
What are some achievements of Mentally Well Workplaces that you are most proud of?
Tina Winchester: We are very proud of the suite of programs we now have available that reach as many workplaces and employees as possible. We created Australia’s first-ever Online Mental Health Induction Program, which has been a great achievement for our team. The program is accessible to all employees, takes a short amount of time to complete, and is cost-effective for businesses. It provides employees with valuable information about mental health in the workplace and how to support themselves and others.
Within the first six months of creating the program, it was licensed up by one of our global clients and is now available to their employees across 7 countries, in 4 different languages. We now have a number of different versions of the program which are industry-specific, including Inductions for the Construction and Legal Industries as well as a Workplace Resilience Induction. We are also immensely proud to have, to date, trained more than 500 Mental Health First Aiders. In 2021 we are focussing on expanding our new Employee Wellness Hub, which currently provides employees with access to over 115 online wellness resources.
What have been some of the most important lessons you have learned about implementing mental health strategies in the workplace, in 2020? Which strategies have been particularly successful, and which ones not as much? And why?
Tina Winchester: We discovered early on that without full engagement and buy-in at the most senior level of an organisation, there can be barriers to creating a mentally well workplace.
Employees are not convinced of an organisation’s commitment to any strategy, unless all levels of management acknowledge its value.
Another important element to understand, when met with resistance to addressing the mental health of employees is that it can be down to a lack of knowledge, but more often is due to uncertainty about how people may be supported, or what that support may look like.
Our most successful strategies have been the provision of different types of programs to suit different levels of the organisation. For example, not everyone needs, or should, be trained as a Mental Health First Aider, but everyone needs a basic level of knowledge around mental health. With this in mind, we provide the Online Mental Health Induction Program to all staff. We created Mental Health Awareness Sessions, which cover health and safety obligations that all managers (no matter their level of seniority) should be aware of during 2 hours of an online class. Then there is a course geared for people wanting to specialise and become Mental Health First Aiders. We also provide ongoing data collection to track benefits and find areas for improvement, as well as make ourselves available to provide supervision and support. Strategies that may not be successful, in my experience, are those that are simply tokenism, organisations that have little to or no commitment, but want to tick ‘mental health’ off the list!
What are some of the biggest mental health challenges employees may be facing as they return to work in 2021? How different are they from the ones they faced in 2020?
Tina Winchester: I feel this will differ depending on where you are in the world, as well as the type of work you undertake. Mental health challenges around Covid-19 have been felt by everyone in one way or another. Yet we also often hear stories of people/employees/organisations doing extremely well as a result of the current situation, whilst other industries have suffered greatly.
Challenges are likely to be where employees are reluctant to go back to work in offices if they have been working from home. Conversely, there may be people that have to continue working from home although they do so reluctantly. Dealing with uncertainty is not something we tend to relish as human beings so anxiety about jobs, the future, how we work and our physical health are likely to be at the forefront of our minds.
What about their employers? What are some of the challenges they may be facing, whilst trying to create workplaces that will facilitate better mental health for everyone in the company?
Tina Winchester: Budgets for supporting mental health programs seems to be one of the biggest challenges.
A report in Australia by PriceWaterhouse Cooper has shown that for every dollar invested in the mental health of employees, an employer can expect to receive a return on investment of around $2.30 at the very least. The question then becomes; can you afford not to invest in mental health? Moving into 2021, employers will also need to be prepared to offer various types of mental health support and training, and not just rely on a ‘one solution fits all’ type of approach.