Chief executive of the Australian Institute of Company Directors John Brogden was set to join 200-plus leading CEOs and executives from Ernst & Young, PwC, Lendlease, CBA, Westpac, NAB, ING, QBE and Virgin at a breakfast on Tuesday to advocate that mental health should be “top of every CEO’s agenda”.
However two weeks ago Mr Brogden announced he had resigned from the AICD after struggling with depression.
Workplace mental wellness expert Graeme Cowan said Mr Brogden’s case highlighted that mental health issues don’t discriminate and he had personally attended funerals for a KPMG partner, a bank manager and a hospital CEO.
“John [Brogden] has been a magnificent advocate for reducing stigma in the workplace and was due to be interviewed for this breakfast but had to pull out for ill health and now we know why,” Mr Cowan said.
The workplace mental health breakfast, hosted by icare and RUOK, includes the release of the first study of employees of all ages by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmundson to measure how “psychologically safe” workers feel to take risks on the job. The group are forming a body of 10 CEOs to discuss a pilot program and raise awareness about the $11 billion lost to mental health issues in the workplace each year, according to a 2014 report by PwC and Beyondblue.
The survey of 1776 Australian employees from all industries and states found that only 23 per cent of lower income-earning frontline employees felt their workplace was “psychologically safe” to take a risk, compared to 45 per cent of workers on significantly higher incomes. A “psychologically safe” workplace is defined by a climate of interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people feel comfortable being themselves to make mistakes or take risks in their work.
“When I heard that Google found that psychologically safety is the No.1 predictor of good teams, I thought this is something we can use to really grab the attention of CEOs and executives,” Mr Cowan said. “It is usually the customer facing roles and employees who deliver net promoter score who feel most at threat.”
Conversation is key
The survey follows State of Workplace Mental Health research released this month that shows one in five (21 per cent) Australian employees report they have taken time off work in the last year because they have been mentally unwell. Ninety-one per cent of Australian employees believe mental health in the workplace is important, but only 52 per cent believe their workplace is mentally healthy.
“Some three million Australians experience anxiety and depression and so some 40 per cent of your team will likely experience a mental health issue,” the former CEO of Jetstar David Hall said. “Affirmative action is not only good for the team but good for the customers and good for business. As leaders we deal a lot with physical injuries that can be seen but we tend to shy away from emotional injuries. We all have a duty to promote awareness, making resources available, reducing the stigma and integrating good health.”
“It’s important that people put their hands up to have these brave conversations to eradicate this problem and any potential stigma,” Mr Hall said.
This piece by Patrick Durkin was first seen on ‘The Financial Review’ May 29 2017.