Home' HR Monthly : October 2019 Contents October 2019 HRM magazine 25
ometimes organisations, without
meaning to, can take a tokenistic
approach to mental health. They’ll
host a morning tea around R U Okay? Day
or run a one-off mindfulness class as a way
to remedy rising stress levels. Everyone feels
good (for a moment) and those tasked with
overseeing employee wellbeing can put a tick
against that particular issue for the quarter.
One-off events can be a good complement
to a broader approach. But, with the World
Health Organisation declaring workplace
burnout to be an “occupational phenomenon”
earlier this year, it’s no longer tenable for
organisations to have single events constitute
the totality of their efforts. They need to make
mental wellness part of their DNA.
International biopharmaceutical company
AbbVie has done just that. After it conducted
ex tensive research of external resources and
its own staff, it realised a comprehensive
mental health framework was needed.
“We had policies, which were great, and
we could exercise them in an ad hoc way, but
we didn’t have a governance framework in
place,” says Marlene Tanner CPHR, AbbVie’s
head of development, and co-lead for the
mental health initiative.
In an internal staff meeting, employees were
asked to raise their hand if they, or someone
they knew, experienced a mental health issue.
“Around one in four people put their hand
up,” says Tanner. “The key issue we found from
utilising data from Deloitte was that only 37
per cent of staff were comfortable talking about
mental health with their colleagues.”
Tanner says it became the company’s key
objective to destigmatise and normalise mental
health in its workplace. And it was a task she
felt was fitting to take on for the final unit of the
AHRI Practising Certification Program (APC).
“I found so much value in the fact that I was
able to blend the theory side with the practical
side. A workplace project like this brings
everything to light,” she says.
Creating the framework
With a strong desire to go from “good to great”,
the team did comprehensive research before
formulating the framework. This included
holding internal focus groups representing a
cross-section of the organisation to gather data.
They also set up a mental health reference
group, which consisted of the general manager,
HR director, the project leads and five other
employees from different parts of the business.
Ensu ring diversity of thought was vital.
“The reference group was key. We didn’t
move forward without their input and buy-in.”
With the information they gathered, Tanner and
the team were able to identify five key goals:
1. Build and maintain a workplace cultu re
that supports mental health, and
2. Increase employees’ knowledge and
awareness of mental health and
wellbeing issues and behaviours.
3. Enable employee participation through
facilitating involvement in a range of
mental health initiatives.
4. Protect the mental health of staff by
addressing workplace risk and putting
preventative measures in place to reduce
st ress levels.
5. Monitoring the impact of the programs.
This framework was used as the basis for the
various training programs that, in partnership
with the Black Dog Institute and Optum,
AbbVie’s EAP provider, were rolled out in phase
one of the program.
Crucial to this phase was educating executives
on the business imperatives of a mentally
healthy workplace. Other staff were taught
about the signs and symptoms to look out for,
and how to talk about mental health at work.
Prior to the adoption of the new approach, only
25 per cent of managers were comfortable
talking about mental health at work and just 24
per cent felt they knew how to support a
distressed colleague. At the completion of phase
one of the program, a new survey found those
numbers had jumped to 100 per cent.
That wasn’t the end of the great results.
Eighty per cent of employees felt they now
understood the signs and symptoms of mental
illness at work (prior to implementation this
was 69 per cent) and 70 per cent felt con fident
they knew how to help a colleague who was
distressed, versus 57 per cent previously.
Tanner shares an example of these changes
in action. One employee addressed staff at a
company-wide meeting and said the ability to
speak candidly about mental health at AbbVie
was an important factor between her staying
or leaving. In a previous organisation this
employee said that employers hadn’t been so
supportive of her anxiety.
So how can you get your organisation to this
place? Tanner says getting executive buy-in from
the get go was paramount.
“We’re in HR, we’re not holding the purse
strings. You need to align everything with
business drivers. If you can demonstrate that
what you’re doing is good for business, you’ll
be able to get the funding and support that you
need. A nd we were able to do that by linking
wellness to productivity, engagement and the
retention of staff.”
There are no shortcuts in a project like this,
Tanner says. You need to get all your ducks in a
row and ensure project management structures,
the change management program and executive
sponsorship are all in place before diving in.
“Without those things, you’re not going to
move forward or bring about the changes that
AbbVie is now in phase two of the program,
which will roll out over the nex t 12-24 months.
In this stage the company will zero in on certain
pain points, such as staff’s lack of quality sleep,
and implement specific programs to come up
with organisation-wide solutions. •••
MAKE AN IMPACT
The APC helped Tanner make a difference with
her coworkers. Make a difference with yours.
Learn more at ahri.com.au/apc
20/9/19 11:57 am
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