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Encouraging mental health conversations and overcoming stigma

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

The wellbeing of employees is extremely important as it not only affects their personal lives, but their overall work performance.

This is exactly why encouraging mental health discussion in the workplace is so important, and why there shouldn’t be stigma attached to these conversations.

“It’s really more about just treating the difficulties that are there for people ... We don’t want people to become unwell in the first place. We want people to feel as though theyve got resources to self-manage when they start to see some difficulties occurring,” said Dr Adam Huxley, chief operating officer of Thrive UK.


“Its really important to keep having the conversation. Thats where people understand what is it about the people that I employ or the people that I support, what are the factors that can support them to thrive at work and remain at work in the way that we want them to?”

Thankfully, Dr Huxley says the stigma that can often be prevalent in these discussions has eased through the pandemic.

“I think the stigmas still there but far less than it was when we started our journey 10 years ago. I think a large part of that is COVID-19.

“I know we keep referring to COVID-19, but it was a pretty pivotal moment in terms of people taking stock of their lives and having to adjust to this thing that prevented us from seeing our loved ones and keeping relationships and not being at work for a lot of people,” said Dr Huxley.

“There was a real appetite from organisations to think about how they could support their workforce when they came back into the office space because things had changed.”

Cathy McDonald, executive general manager of Vitality Works, outlined the implications of not dealing with mental health at work.

“The Productivity Commission’s inquiry into mental health in 2020 found that 2.8 million working Australians have mental ill health. What were seeing is a couple of issues. Firstly, absenteeism, but also presenteeism,” she explained.

“The report found that the average worker with mental health will take 10 to 12 days off each year, costing businesses up to $10 billion. Then on the presenteeism side where somebody’s ability to function well at work is impacted, on average, people with mental health reported reducing the amount of work that they do across 14 to 18 days per year, which is really significant, and again, costing up to $7 billion per year,” said Ms McDonald.

Not only do these issues have an effect on the individual, but the business can suffer too. With ongoing talent shortages, creating a healthy work environment can help with attraction and retention.

“A new factor thats coming in as well is that in the fairly tight labour market at the moment, providing people with tools that keep them safe and well and can help them if their mental health is becoming an issue for them becomes part of an employee value proposition for an organisation that can help to attract talent but also to retain valuable workforce,” Ms McDonald said.

Discussion and support are important to employees, as Ms McDonald said that according to Beyond Blue, “91 per cent of employees say that finding a mentally healthy workplace is important to them, but only 56 per cent believe that its actually important to that organisation”.

She continued: “One of the things that all organisations will need to consider is the new Safe Work Code of Practice that was released in August of last year where it requires employers to eliminate or mitigate psychosocial hazards.

“Having a solution that people can access in the workplace to help manage their own wellbeing is one of the things that can demonstrate that youre doing something, a commitment that youre making on behalf of your people,” said Ms McDonald.

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full audio conversation with Cathy McDonald and Adam Huxley on 23 February is below, and the original podcast article can be found here.



Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.