24 September 2015

5th Biannual Preventing Workplace Psychological Injury Conference Recap

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I had the immense privilege of attending last week’s 5th Biannual Preventing Workplace Psychological Injury Conference that was held at the Grace Hotel in Sydney last week. The inspiring speakers and the stories they shared are sure to stick in the minds of those who attended for weeks to come.

It was fascinating – yet heart wrenching – to hear about the struggles employees face in different industries. One of the main stories that jumps to my mind is the one shared by Colin Anderson, Director of Safety and Wellbeing for the Queensland Police, who confronted the room with the tragedy of a police woman who committed suicide in their workplace. She had a mental illness, but she was one of their star performers, so how could they have known? Andrew Layton from Caterpillar Underground Mining and Rosemary Selkrig from mining and construction company Mandalay Resources shared with us the struggles of ‘blokey’ and male-dominated environments, where you don’t talk about how you feel because that just isn’t what  ‘real men’ do.

Speaking of which, make sure to check out beyondblue’s Man Therapy, which Janine Scott briefly discussed.

In a completely different work environment, Vicki Irvine, Rachel Clements and Kate Dobbrick discussed mental health in law firms, where over-working is rewarded and the suicide rates are soaring. Finally, for me and probably for many who were there, the most interesting and enlightening presentation was from Kylie who discussed how it was to live with a mental illness.

Now you may think that it was a very depressing event, what with the stories of suicides, broken families, uncomprehensive bosses and abusive colleagues, but there was a lot of positive takeaways on how to empower managers with the tools to help their staff and strategies to create mentally healthy workplaces. A number of presentations touched on this, as well as an entire afternoon workshop by Dr Natasha Kiso, Director of PsyFlex, who discussed how to create a psychologically healthy workplace. The main strategies that were shared to ensure this were surprisingly simple:

·         Offer flexible working arrangements

·         Be genuinely interested in the wellbeing of staff

·         Regularly check in with colleagues

·         Don’t be shy to say that you’ve noticed a change in behaviour

·         Address wellbeing concerns before even approaching performance issues.

 To me, this sounds so incredibly simple and intuitive and this shouldn’t require the implementation of programmes and strategies. It may sound terribly naïve on my part, but from my understanding (and I do underline that I am not an expert), the most effective way of preventing workplace psychological injury is being human.

The fact that organisations feel the need to send staff to events such as this one isn’t an indicator that there are more psychological injuries today. It’s an indicator that employees are feeling safer in addressing the issue – which is great – but it’s also an indicator that businesses have forgotten how to be empathetic in their quest to increase productivity and reach KPIs.

Creating a mentally healthy workplace is about making sure that your employees feel safe and comfortable, it’s about genuinely caring about the wellbeing of your staff and colleagues. This should be natural, and yet it seems like our society is overthinking it.

If a single teaching is to be remembered from this conference, it is this: don’t overthink it, don’t just tick a box to qualify as a positive workplace. Just make sure you tap into your inner-human.   

Although Alexandra didn’t know much about conference production before first coming across this opportunity with Akolade, she has quickly become passionate about her job. Gaining in-depth knowledge in a variety of new fields without going through exam stress? Who could ask for more? If ever you speak to Alexandra and wonder what that funny accent is, it is from Quebec, French-speaking Canada. Do not hesitate to ask Alexandra about her former life on the 47th parallel; she will be thrilled to talk to you about snow storms, skiing and -35⁰c!


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