Business leaders need to step up to improve mental health

Business leaders must take their employees’ mental health as seriously as they take their physical workplace safety, more than 60 senior executives were told today at the Business Council’s Mentally Healthy Workplaces Discussion.

The forum, organised by the Business Council of Australia, included opening remarks from beyondblue Chairman the Hon Jeff Kennett AC, and examples of workplace cultural reform and actions from Deloitte Chief Executive, Cindy Hook and Lendlease Chief Executive, Steve McCann.

Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott called on Australian CEOs to step up to the challenge of improving mental health. 

“Mental health and safety is not the domain of the community or health sectors alone – business has a lot to contribute,” Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said.

“It’s important that psychological safety is taken as seriously as physical workplace safety and that businesses take practical steps to improve workplace wellbeing, organisational culture and workplace bullying. 

“Our organisations recognise the need to work closely with each other to make sure we’re getting right in the initiatives workplaces are introducing. This is about productivity and growth, as well as health and wellbeing.”

In his speech, beyondblue Chairman Mr Kennett called for a more rigorous approach to measuring and addressing workplace mental health, led from the top.

“The issue of mental health isn’t just a workplace issue – but if we get it right in our workplaces there’ll be a ripple effect,” Mr Kennett said.

At Deloitte, mental health is treated as a priority, Ms Hook told the forum.

“We need a strong workforce and that comes from the top. Stress and pressure on staff is on the rise and it’s not going to stop. This means CEOs need to better support their staff,” she said.

Mr McCann outlined how Lendlease had made a target to have as many people qualified in mental health first aid as physical first aid.

“An organisation with a strong culture can lead and make a real difference,” Mr McCann said.

“Mental health is a non-negotiable for the construction industry. It needs to be measured and reported on in the same way as safety.

“This is why Lendlease has had 750 staff undergo mental health first aid training.” 

The Business Council and beyondblue are founding members of the Mentally Healthy Workplaces Alliance, the organisation behind headsup.org.au – a national online resource for workplace mental health.