How three Australian workplaces are addressing mental wellbeing in 2021

By | January 12, 2021

This article was created in partnership with NAB.

As Australia cautiously heads back into the office or embraces new ways of working, it’s time to address a key issue: employee mental health.

A rare silver lining of the pandemic is Australian workplaces’ transformation to make mental health a priority. Companies that once resisted change are pivoting to remote and flexible working and addressing worker burnout and mental wellbeing. Meanwhile, others ramped up mental health programs in place – emerging from 2020 more collaborative, empathetic and profitable. Here’s how three Australian workplaces are addressing mental wellbeing in 2021.

THE FITNESS EMPIRE

It’s little surprise ‘wellness’ is at the heart of the Flow Athletic business. In ordinary times, the yoga studio and gym conducts professional development workshops with its staff every month.

But when the pandemic disrupted the way the online and offline fitness business operates, owner Ben Lucas took things up a notch. Teams took every Friday afternoon off to participate in mental wellbeing workshops hosted by experts like psychologists or nutritionists.

“Our business is nothing but people; if you don’t look after them, then you haven’t got anything,” the NRL-player-turned-fitness-entrepreneur says. “As a business owner, I’ve got two jobs: One is to grow the business, and the other is to grow the staff. I’ve got to make sure they are financially looked after, but that they’re growing as well. Plus, I like all our guys, and I don’t want to see them go, because they’re good humans.”

Last year, Mr Lucas made a ‘vow’ to his 30-strong staff that he’d keep them on full pay for the entire year.

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“That was stressful, but I really wanted to follow through on that,” he says. “I’ve been in the fitness businesses for over 15 years, and I’ve been through the GFC, but this has been the most stressful time to date.”

Despite the pressure of launching a new platform Flow Athletic TV and navigating the changing health advice, Mr Lucas ensured he also took time off to decompress and prioritise his mental wellbeing.

“If I didn’t prioritise and value my own health, I wouldn’t have been able to lead my team through what was a very challenging time,” he says. “This year more than ever, I’ve been switching off the computer, turning on the phone and going to bed early – that has actually been the biggest help for me personally.”

Mr Lucas says setting aside time in your day to focus on meditation, group exercise or running is crucial.

“With your health, you need to plan it in your diary like you would any other appointment. I personally plan everything a week in advance and treat my exercise like a meeting – you can’t move it in the diary.”

THE CHARITY

A holistic and proactive approach around team members’ mental wellbeing is crucial for Starlight, the organisation whose mission is to brighten the lives of seriously ill children and young people.

“We underpin the employment experience with the science and practical application of positive psychology,” says Susan Henry, the foundation’s head of people and culture.

“All team members are educated on the principles of positive psychology, and in particularly Martin Seligman’s PERMA model for human flourishing, and all leaders are educated in positive leadership and evidenced-based coaching approaches.”

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Staff have access to Starlight’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and over the past year, teams could participate in Mental Health Awareness training. Teams who work directly with families facing unimaginable heartache receive additional support to prevent burnout or compassion fatigue.

“They participate in daily team warm-ups and debriefs, we provide additional wellbeing support through personal and professional boundaries workshops and monthly team reflection sessions with our EAP provider,” says Ms Henry.

Ms Henry says a positive workplace “starts with recruiting great people” and setting them up for success from day one. The foundation’s 12-month onboarding process identifies employee’s goals, develops their strengths and celebrates their accomplishments. Managers, specially trained in positive leadership, are the “coaches” cheering their team from the sidelines.

“We know open, transparent and trustworthy leadership is the biggest driver of wellbeing. Strong leaders build resilient organisations which in turn support resilience at the individual level,” says Ms Henry. “People leaders have the biggest impact on team members’ levels of engagement and wellbeing.”

Last year Starlight was recognised as a Great Place to Work and Australia’s Most Innovative Company in the government, education and NFP sector by the Australian Financial Review.

Ms Henry recommends businesses take “great care” with recruitment, ensure expectations are “crystal clear”, and that people have “great managers’. “And make sure team members take their annual leave,” she adds.

THE FIZZY DRINK COMPANY

Started by Sarah and Emmet Condon from their kitchen bench some 16 years ago, Remedy fermented drinks has ridden the live-culture health obsession and their bottled concoctions now sell in the UK, Singapore, US, Canada and New Zealand.

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“We’re still a relatively young business that has grown fast, so our formal approach to wellness initiatives at work is still evolving,” says Zoe Nasr, the group’s people and culture director. “We don’t profess to have the perfect plan in place yet, but our current initiatives include virtual meditation, fitness sessions, ongoing sharing of a curated selection of wellbeing resources and a range of social connection activities, led by a group of internal team champions who we’ve dubbed the ‘Remedy Wellbeing Crew’.”

Over the past year, online workshops including virtual trivia, team check-ins, guest motivational speakers and a DIY kombucha making class kept the team connected. So successful, these initiatives continue this year. ‘Camera on’ is optional and sessions aren’t compulsory – “We understand that what keeps people ‘well’ can differ from person to person or even team to team.”

Ms Nasr says implementing wellbeing initiatives have been mostly free for the company to implement.

“Once we started asking our team members who would be interested in championing wellbeing at Remedy, we found we had a wealth of skills and knowledge at our disposal within the business,” she says.

“These included qualified yoga instructors, nutritionists, fitness gurus and dietitians, as well as plenty of people willing to apply their professional skills or personal passions to the cause. In the process, we found our team members got to learn more about each other’s passions outside of the nine-to-five.”

This article was created in partnership with NAB.

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