New Partnership Shows It’s ‘OK to Not Always Be OK at Work’
20 March 2017 at 8:32 am
A “game-changing” new partnership has been formed in a bid to raise awareness of mental health and change workplace culture so “it’s OK to not always be OK”.
Disability not for profit EPIC Assist (EPIC) has joined forces with Mental Health at Work (mh@work), a consultancy aimed at improving wellbeing and productivity of people and workplaces, to educate employers through a series of workshops.
As part of the partnership EPIC, who already run Disability Awareness workshops, will extend their suite of training to include face-to-face Managing Mental Health in the Workplace workshops with content created by mh@work founder and managing director Ingrid Ozols.
Ozols said they wanted to support employers to “be brave and employ people with mental health challenges and disabilities, and not fear doing this”.
“Because at the moment, there’s still a hell of a lot of stigma, and that’s just making things worse,” Ozols said.
“We need to enable all employers to have conversations that are uncomfortable, but that they have some confidence in having.
“Our goal is to change the culture of workplaces; to create organisations where it’s safe, it’s supportive and it’s OK to not always be OK.”
Ozols founded mh@work 16 years ago after she identified a prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace, but found no resources available to help those that needed them most.
“I’ve always been someone that people came to with deeply personal information, and the further involved in HR I became, the more time I spent listening to people’s problems,” Ozols said.
“I was required to speak to people about performance issues at work, but my gut was saying, ‘there seems to be more of an issue here’. Their work performance was being impacted, but it was because of these other health issues.”
Ozols also has lived experience of mental health.
“All my life I’ve been living, loving and working with many people touched by mental illness. My late mother lived her life, especially during my childhood, in and out of psych hospitals,” she said.
“I was her carer from a young age, but we never talked about it. All I knew was she had ‘bad nerves’ and we had to walk on eggshells around her.
“I was diagnosed with a mental illness which first showed up when I was seven or eight. I’ve had thoughts of suicide, and did in fact try to kill myself several times when I was 18 or 19.
“As I went through university, having Bipolar Disorder was really, really difficult. I didn’t know what I was dealing with, I just thought I was weird.
“As my working life started, I began to see that this was quite common and a lot of people experience all sorts of mental illness, but we never talked about it and never knew what to do with it.”
Ozols, who has held leadership roles on boards and committees including Mental Health Foundation of Australia, RANZP Supported Decision Making Committee and Wild at Heart, said she wanted to use her knowledge where she felt it would be “best placed”.
“I took a lot of what I learnt back to the workplace because I knew that was where they needed the help, because of what I’d experienced,” she said.
“When I went looking for help to get skills, there was nothing out there. I knew I needed it and was sure a whole lot of other HR managers needed it too.”
She said there was still a widespread reluctance for employees to disclose mental health issues which was having a detrimental impact not only on individuals, but on organisations more broadly.
“Most employers and workplaces have already got a lot of people with these challenges, but they may not be aware of it because there’s still a real reluctance to disclose,” she said.
“People are afraid to say ‘look, I have this vulnerability or that one’, because they’re scared they might lose their job, or be managed out of their job, or ignored.”
She said there has been a rise in awareness but there was still work to be done.
“There’s been a lot of awareness but now we need to take it to the next level,” Ozols said.
“Through this partnership, we can actually make a difference to a lot of people’s lives, to help them get employed and stay employed.”
Ozols said she was pleased to be teaming up with EPIC, to make “an even greater impact in workplaces”.
“This partnership will bring together disability, mental health and suicide prevention, because we know a lot of people who have a disability also experience mental health issues,” Ozols said.
“We are human and there is that overlap. We’re not one or the other, we’re both.”
The first phase of the partnership is now underway with Ozols training a group of eight EPIC staff to become approved trainers of the mental health workshops, with two more mental health trainers set to join the team in the near future.
As a prerequisite to becoming trainers, EPIC staff were required to have either lived experience of mental illness, or qualifications in mental health and training.
EPIC Assist CEO Bill Gamack told Pro Bono News they felt privileged to partner with Ozols.
“She is a remarkable person. Ingrid’s decision to impart her knowledge through this partnership will mean a real change in the lives of countless Australians,” Gamack said.
“An increase in mental health awareness in Australia in recent years means many new mental health workshops have been coming out of the woodwork. But the value of true expertise like Ingrid’s cannot be overstated, and I have no doubt this will shine through in our workshops.”
EPIC identified several benefits to employers to being well-informed and confident in managing employees with mental illness:
- increased tenure and fewer absences
- reduced recruitment and retraining costs for the business
- competitiveness in procurement and tender processes
- improved staff morale, staff feeling safe at work
- a diverse workforce resulting in greater teamwork and cohesiveness
- existing staff gaining confidence to disclose mental illness
- increase your status as an employer of choice.
“We spend so much of our lives at work; fostering a supportive and accepting work environment is a win-win for employees and employers,” Gamack said.
“Employees that feel supported and understood at work carry that confidence into other parts of their lives.”
If you or anyone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au