As Australia marks Mental Health Week, an aged care organisation shares its new strategy to help support and protect its employees’ psychological wellbeing.
For some time now the National Mental Health Commission has been encouraging organisations to take a more active role in nurturing and supporting a “mentally healthy workplace” for their staff.
A former employee of the commission, Rachel Green is bringing that concept to fruition at Care Connect, where she works as director of mental health services.
Ms Green has helped progress a new organisational initiative addressing employee mental health, where the focus on wellbeing is being led by the frontline staff.
As part of the initiative, staff from Care Connect’s offices in Banyo and Tweed Heads recently took part in a series of workshops where they explored the prevalence and complexity of mental illness, as well as personal strategies they could implement to reduce stress at work.
Rather than imposing a “top-down initiative from management”, Care Connect specifically opted for the approach of encouraging employees to devise, implement and monitor their own strategies to maintain and improve their mental health.
“We wanted to do it in a way that would involve and engage staff in exploring their own mental health in the workplace and in looking for solutions they could manage themselves,” Ms Green told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Information and strategies
The sessions began with the provision of information on mental health, and what actions can nurture and support it. Staff then discussed strategies they could use to reduce workplace stress for themselves and their colleagues – these included simplifying language, improving communication, self-care exercises and acknowledging emotions.
“Some of the strategies were really simple,” said Ms Green. “It was staff identifying things that promoted self-care for them; it might be doing things at the end of the work day like meditation, walking the dog, doing yoga or listening to music.”
The open nature of the conversation at the workshops meant that any stigmas or misconceptions around mental illness could be addressed, she said. “It created a safe environment where people could talk about why mental health is important and why it is applicable to us all.”
As part of the ongoing initiative, staff will record the instances where they use the strategies, measure their progress and assess the effectiveness of the workshops.
By providing staff with a space and time away from their regular duties, the organisation is effectively saying it places importance on maintaining a positive culture and mentally healthy workplace, Ms Green said.
“It gives staff permission to do the things they need to do to stay mentally healthy. It also sets an expectation that this is something we want for our workforce and it’s important to us.”
Apart from the obvious benefits for staff, Ms Green said the flow-on benefits of supporting employee mental health would ultimately reach clients too. “A stable workforce is good for us as employers; it means better continuity of person-centred care for the people we support.”
Discussing the next stages of the initiative, Ms Green said Care Connect was eager to continue rolling out the approach across the organisation. This implementation would further shape the delivery of the workshops. “What’s interesting is that different teams come up with different things they think are important to measure and monitor,” she said.
It was likely that a measurement of the program’s impact would be undertaken in the future, she added.
This article first appeared on ‘Ageing Agenda’ on 10 October 2014.