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Why mental health needs to be prioritised in the workplace

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read
Why Mental Health Needs To Be Prioritised In The Workplace

The wellbeing of employees can often take a back seat to profitability.

Mental health support in the workplace should be a key consideration for companies, said mental health advocate and Heart On My Sleeve founder Mitch Wallis.

“I think the workplace is such a crucial environment to make mental health impact. A, because we just spend so much time there. B, because we’re legally obligated as employers to create a psychologically safe environment,” said Mr Wallis.


“It’s not a negotiable thing. It’s not a choice. It’s the right thing to do, human to human, to allow people to feel like they can bring more of their real self to work.”

While the wellbeing of staff should be the paramount consideration, Mr Wallis noted that there are also profitability advantages to addressing these issues, too.

“Economically, there is a huge return on investment for every dollar that’s placed toward building a culture that respects each other, that communicates well and feels like they’re valued end-to-end, not just a resource in the business,” he explained.

With this in mind, companies should aim to equip managers with the skills and tools necessary to address mental health in the workplace.

Mr Wallis continued: “I don’t think it’s important for managers to value mental health, I think it’s absolutely critical. I think that people won’t be around in people leadership positions unless they build emotional intelligence.”

“One comment I always say is that as people managers, we don’t get there by necessarily being good at managing people. We’re good at sales, we’re good at marketing, we’re good at finance, we’re good at product development, whatever that is.

“And that boosts us along a chain, a promotional cycle of which one day someone taps us on the shoulder and says, ‘Hey, you know how you’re good at marketing, you should totally lead a group of marketers.’ But seldom do they then make the mindset switch that it’s now no longer my responsibility to make myself successful. It’s my responsibility to make other people successful.”

This is where more support for managers may be necessary to give them the skills to look after their people.

“So good people managers will have high [emotional quotient] because the more bought in on a relationship a staff member feels by a people leader, the more they will be able to bring their best self,” Mr Wallis said.

“Middle management are probably in the most acute jaws of the pressure cycle within an organisation because they’ve got a top-down and bottoms-up cooker that’s telling them, ‘You need to be everything to everyone.’ So I truly do feel for middle-level management.”

“I do think, though, that managers of managers have a responsibility to be able to support those people. Just because we are in a caretaker role does not mean that we ourselves are now immune to mental health issues. And so, this has to be a whole-of-company approach from the board level down. It’s a priority that our culture, this is who we are and the way we do things. It’s not a project or a work stream. It has to become part of a company’s DNA.”

While it’s important to equip managers with the relevant skills, outside help can also be an option, which is where Heart On My Sleeve comes in.

“I think there’s a place for externalising mental health and getting outside support in, for sure, particularly the more complex issues that require professional help, but never, ever underestimate the power of an everyday person who’s not ‘qualified’.”

Notes from the editor: If you’re currently experiencing any of the sensitive issues we’ve discussed in this podcast and would like to reach out for help, you may wish to contact Lifeline: www.lifeline.org.au.

To learn more about Heart On My Sleeve, click here.

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full audio conversation with Mitch Wallis on 3 March is below, and the original podcast article can be found here.


Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.