World-first program paves way for mentally healthier workplaces
Published: 26 July, 2019
Workplace mental health is becoming a priority globally, yet many managers remain uncertain how to start wellbeing conversations with their employees.
A world-first online training program may help address this gap, with promising new trial results showing it can significantly boost managers’ confidence to effectively support the mental health needs of their staff.
Based on the latest research evidence, HeadCoach was developed by the Black Dog Institute in collaboration with UNSW Sydney and the Brain and Mind Centre at University of Sydney, through the Well@Work project. It is the first program delivered entirely online that integrates both preventive and responsive strategies to help managers create a more mentally healthy workplace.
Findings from a randomised controlled trial (RCT) evaluating the online program, published in the latest Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, suggest it not only improved managers’ capacity to respond to staff wellbeing, it also encouraged preventive behaviours to reduce known mental health risk factors present in the workplace.
“Managers hold a unique position in influencing team wellbeing – from modelling accepting attitudes towards mental health, to addressing issues that could contribute towards job strain,” said lead author Aimee Gayed, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow based at the Black Dog Institute’s Workplace Mental Health Research Program.
“These results are exciting because they show for the first time that a simple and tailored online mental health program is both effective and scalable in the workplace setting.”
The trial recruited 210 managers working across three organisations, including two state-based ambulance services and a building equipment hire company.
After completing a questionnaire on their confidence levels in responding to workplace mental health scenarios, the managers allocated to receive the HeadCoach program had six weeks to complete the online program. The waitlist control group received the program at the completion of the study. Their direct report employees also completed wellbeing questionnaires in the lead-up to and following the trial.
Managers who completed the HeadCoach training reported significantly higher confidence levels compared to the control group. These managers also reported greater responsiveness to mental health issues and greater implementation of preventive behaviours to create a more mentally healthy work environment, which continued four months after the trial. No substantial changes were found in the employee’s wellbeing questionnaire during the study, so next steps will further examine the flow-on effects for direct reports to see if upskilling managers with specific mental health training can enhance staff’s psychological wellbeing.
“Mental illness can cost the Australian economy up to $12 billion per year, with sickness absence and performance-related issues contributing to reduced productivity, workers compensation claims and staff turnover,” said Associate Professor Samuel Harvey, Chief Psychiatrist at the Black Dog Institute.
“However, there are currently very few evidence-based mental health programs at hand to help managers address this critical public health issue.
“There needs to be a focus on how we can shape workplaces to actively assist employee wellbeing at an individual, team and whole organisational level, rather than considering workplace mental health an optional extra."
HeadCoach was funded by beyondblue with donations from the Movember Foundation. Additional funding was also provided by the icare foundation and the Mental Health Branch of NSW Health.
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