Mental health is an increasingly important part of the conversation around workplace health and safety. The public perception and attitudes to mental health over the last few years have undergone a dramatic shift, with increased advocacy around the important correlation between mental health and physical health and safety. Darren Black, CEO of OzHelp, spoke to Human Resources Director about how businesses can better invest in this important facet of wellbeing.
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Darren Black, CEO of OzHelp, is a man on a mission to ensure that mental health and suicide prevention receive the attention they deserve.“We provide mental health and wellbeing assessments and training to high-risk workplaces,” says Black.
“We work across a broad variety of industries, but the common factor is that they’re blue-collar and male dominated. These industries tend to have a much higher risk of suicide, in large part because the issues aren’t being spotted early enough.”
OzHelp was originally founded in 2001, following the suicide of a number of young Canberra apprentices. Today, OzHelp engages and supports 36,000 people nationally each year, and that number is rising rapidly.
The nature of this engagement includes the design and delivery of health and wellbeing programs that are created to uniquely address physical and mental health issues in each workplace. OzHelp offers employers market-leading tools to proactively support the health and wellbeing of their workforces. From OzHelp’s perspective, this means there is considerable emphasis on reaching out to workplaces that have traditionally been perceived as ‘hard to reach’.
This can be quite literal in some cases, particularly when working with industries such as mining, oil or farming – but more frequently, it says something about the culture of the workplace, says Black.
“There are a variety of reasons around it.
There are the wider societal stigmas, which can be amplified in a ‘blokey’ environment,” says Black. “There may also be concerns about job security, or career limitations – people often feel that raising concerns about mental health may lead to their employment prospects being limited or their contract not being renewed.”
How can businesses help?
Of course, to reach out to these employees, OzHelp needs to be well prepared with the relevant details.
“We work with lots of big employers, regulators and insurers to gather the necessary data around these industries,” says Black.
“What we’re seeing at the moment are increasing rates of mental health-related and stress-related incidents of injury and illness related to the workplace.”
These figures continue to increase, while incidents related to physical health hold steady, or even decline.
Black believes this is the result of greater awareness around mental health issues in the public eye – but also that work environments are growing more stressful, even as health and safety regulations improve.
“Ten or 15 years ago, these things were viewed solely from a physical perspective, rather than a mental perspective,” says Black
“There’s been a lot of effort put into improving physical safety in the workplace, which is great.
But it’s taken longer for HR professionals to see the correlation between physical and mental health.” Black also notes that more companies are investing in preventative mental health measures in the workplace.
He also posits that it’s likely to become viewed in a similar light to other work and safety measures, with attendant legislation around best practice.
“The truth is that mental health needs to be included as part of wider work, health and safety policy,” he says.
“The early adopters are getting ahead of the wave and starting to pay attention to mental health now.”
Black is passionate that this is the right thing to do from an obligation and ethical standpoint.
But he’s quick to point out that there are also net benefits to businesses that invest in the mental health of their workforces.
“Businesses who invest proactively in mental health are ultimately going to increase their profitability,” says Black.
“The benefits accrue over time – less sick leave taken, reduced absenteeism and reduced staff turnover are just some of the long-term benefits.”
The Workplace Tune-Up
Key to OzHelp’s success is its Workplace Tune-Up (WTU), a holistic screening tool delivered online to each employee.
This presents to the employer the aggregated health and wellbeing data of a workforce or industry, benchmarked against other workplaces with in-built data analytics.
The data available from the WTU can guide interventions based on need rather than gut instinct.
The WTU report incorporates your workplace rating and benchmarking on a number of validated and reliable measures of employee health and wellbeing, including:
- AusD risk – diabetes risk assessment
- chronic disease risk assessment
- WEMWBS (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale)
- PHQ 9 depression scale
- productivity measures as linked directly to wellbeing (SPS6)
By looking at factors such as physical health, diet, exercise, sleep, finance and relationships, the WTU helps identify not only the external symptoms (eg suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety or self-harm) but also what may be causing those issues for the individual.
“It looks at the whole person, not just a checklist of risk factors,” says Black. “And importantly, we take a holistic view of partnering with the employer. We don’t just have a tick-box approach.”
The process is usually well received by employees. As Black notes, there is often a real reluctance by individual employees to report mental health issues within the company’s own chain of command.
“Businesses who invest proactively in mental health are ultimately going to increase their profitability” Darren Black, CEO, OzHelp
“We provide a report to management that provides a unique snapshot of the health of their workplace, and suggestions for workplace initiatives,” says Black.
“But everything is de-identified, and we also maintain complete confidentiality. So employees are much happier to talk to independent outsiders.” Around 40% of employees will typically receive some kind of follow-up from OzHelp’s support staff in the following weeks.
Sometimes it’s just a simple call; sometimes the individual is referred for clinical counselling. A series of leadership briefings are also held for management, to educate them and increase their awareness of how to respond to it from a leadership perspective. Education is also offered to the whole workforce, as well as training notes that there is actually a high degree of commonality across industries.
“Around 80% of the challenges we encounter in any workplace are very similar,” says Black. “However, it’s in that remaining 20% that the differences come in.”
Some of these are simply due to the individual challenges facing a particular workplace, while others are industry-specific.
Looking ahead, the WTU will continue to be updated to better accommodate the circumstances that arise in that 20%. Research, teamwork with partners and feedback from employers will continue to influence the future direction.
“Eventually, we believe we’re going to have more industry-specific iterations of the WTU,” says Black.
“We see the WTU as an iterative tool; it will continue to evolve as we gather more data, speak to employees at ground level and witness trends in the workplace change.”
For more information call 1300 694 357 or try our Workplace Tune Up DEMO visit: OzHelpConnect.org.au