Home' HR Monthly : March 2019 Contents March 2019 HRM magazine 31
ow do you go from a passive, rarely
used wellbeing program to a proactive
mental health strategy? Julie Dawson,
the people and culture officer at RSM
Australia, a consulting company with 30
offices, pulled it off. And it began with a
“I’ve always been passionate about
mental health. Looking at the statistics,
you see there’s been a huge increase in
issues generally, and a high prevalence
in professional services, including the
accounting sector,” she says.
From her workplace in Perth, Dawson has
turned this passion into local and national
initiatives. She’s encouraged employees to
speak up, launched awareness training for
leaders and introduced numerous mental
health first aid officers. That’s not bad after
20 months on the job – and five years into an
“It’s so important to open up dialogue
– to make people feel comfortable about
addressing mental health issues,” she says.
Before joining RSM in 2017, Dawson was
in the not-for-profit sector. She spent a year
at Life Without Barriers, which provides
services for foster care, mental health,
disability and aged care. That was followed
by a year at Good Samaritan Industries,
a Uniting Church agency that improves
employment opportunities for people with
disabilities. At both, addressing mental health
issues was par for the course.
However, RSM’s approach , called the
Wellness@Work Program, was more focussed
on offering things like gym membership.
“The Employment Assistance Program
(EAP) usage was very low. There were no red
flags that mental health was an issue, but the
problem is that the research shows you won’t
typically see red flags. Many employees are
afraid of the stigma.”
Rather than waiting for warning signs,
Dawson took matters into her own hands.
Already enrolled in the AHRI Practising
Certification Program (APC), she decided on
a capstone project: RSM Perth – Creating a
Mentally Healthy Workplace.
“The biggest attraction to certification was
the practical element,” says Dawson, who has
a bachelor’s degree in HR management and
industrial relations from Curtin University.
“While undergraduate study was more about
tex tbooks and theory, certification involved
more practical discussion with people at
different levels from various industries.
Through the assignments, I got to implement
new policies and procedu res entirely and I
learned how to get proposals across the line.”
One successful proposal was a mental
health facilitation process with a focus on
disclosure; telling employees “it’s okay to say
you’re not okay”. A follow-up survey revealed
that 100 per cent of participants found the
experience highly valuable and wanted more.
“To ensure the dialogue spread across the
office, we aligned the facilitation with mental
health awareness training for leaders.
It wasn’t long before I started to hear them
quoting statistics in general conversation that
I’d quoted to them when trying to get the
initiative across the line. A few have become
quite passionate about it and have been asking
me, ‘What are we doing next? What are we
Nationally, Dawson has set up mental health
first aid officers in every capital city office.
These regular staff members have undertaken
a mental health first aid course, which trains
them to assist with a problem until it resolves
or professional help arrives. They also provide a
confidential point of contact.
Elizabeth Nunez FAHRI, director of people
and culture at RSM, says: “As soon as we let
people know about the officers, employees
started ringing straight away. Sometimes people
need a prompt to start a conversation. There’s
more and more demand on the workforce
because of the fast pace of change. I think
people are struggling but don't always admit it.”
Dawson’s project has not only brought much-
needed relief to RSM Australia’s 1200 staff, it
has also strengthened her relationship with her
boss. “I manage a team of 17 people. They can’t
all report to me,” says Nunez.
“I sponsored her certification capstone
project, so we met every few weeks. The benefit
for me was that I stayed connected. I otherwise
might not have had opportunities to do that.”
Another two members of Nunez’s team are
now enrolled in the APC program.
Julie Dawson CPHR explains how she transformed her
organisation’s approach to mental health.
BY JASMINE CRITTENDEN
21/2/19 2:03 pm
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