With one third of our adult lives spent at work, and work-related stress estimated to affect around 32 per cent of all Australians, mental health in the workplace is a significant issue. The ACT’s new Work Health and Safety Commissioner, Jacqueline Agius, said that workplace mental health matters, and it should be addressed the same way as other workplace health and safety concerns.
Recognising the need to assist Canberra employers, the ACT Government recently launched a $4.5 million mental health package as a part of a suite of mental health resources for workers suffering from isolation, anxiety and poor mental health.
The new measures are designed to complement and extend the ACT Government’s Healthier Work program by providing free support to local businesses to develop and implement annual health and wellbeing plans to help both individual behaviour change and, importantly, shift workplace cultures and environments.
Healthier Work’s areas of focus include healthy eating, physical activity, mental health through social and emotional
wellbeing, reduction of alcohol consumption, and smoking cessation. So far, 67 local businesses have signed up to the program.
With COVID-19 presenting new challenges and, in some cases, exacerbating workplace mental health risks, Commissioner Agius said it was time to move more resources online.
“We have introduced health and wellbeing webinars, online training and suicide prevention courses to help struggling workers and local businesses access the help they need when they need it,” she said. “The webinars have been really popular and we will ensure these valuable resources remain online for more employers and employees to access.”
The webinars include topics such as effective communication for employers, the benefits of physical exercise, and healthy eating for immunity and wellbeing. Other new initiatives are mental fitness training, Mindarma, QPR for Business and suicide prevention training.
“In many cases, workplaces have needed to change drastically in response to the pandemic,” said Commissioner Agius. “While some employees may relish the chance to work from home, for others this has increased risks associated with isolation, and removed supports that work provided for them.
“Traditionally, work health and safety covered the physical risk of workplaces, but psychosocial risks need to be examined, too. Any hazard that results in injury is a workplace health and safety issue. Employers should also focus on psychosocial hazards in the workplace.”
One of the early adopters of the ACT Government’s Mentally Healthier Workplaces initiative was BAL Lawyers, which saw the need to commit as many resources as possible to support staff during this current challenging time and into the future.
“With untreated mental ill health now the leading cause of absenteeism and long-term work incapacity in Australia, the Healthier Work initiative makes good business sense,” said BAL Lawyers director, employment law and investigations, Gabrielle Sullivan.
“But beyond the bottom line, it also makes sense within our workplace culture which is one that actively and proactively promotes balance, health and wellbeing. All BAL directors are committed to encouraging our staff to adopt a healthy and balanced approach at work. In line with this commitment, BAL has pursued long-term participation in the ACT Healthier Work’s recognition scheme.”
Since joining the initiative in 2006, BAL has moved through the ranks to achieve platinum status.
“When the Healthier Workplaces initiative started, our program comprised boot-camp style physical fitness sessions and has evolved during the years to include healthy eating and social and emotional wellbeing initiatives such as a salad club, yoga classes, nutritional and mental health seminars, health checks, flu shots, weekly fruit baskets and a CSR [corporate social responsibility] program supporting local charities,” says Ms Sullivan.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced some of these group activities to go on hold, making it even more important for us to encourage staff to engage with online wellbeing initiatives that help them find other ways to support their wellbeing.
“By creating a workplace that prevents harm, promotes a positive culture, protects wellbeing and provides support for those who need it, businesses can ensure their people do their best and be their best.”
For more information on the Mentally Healthier Workplaces initiative and to access online resources, visit the ACT Government’s Healthier Work website.