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Psychological Health & Safety

Addressing the Root Causes and Building Organisations that Thrive

In conjunction with a panel of thought leaders from Microsoft, King & Wood Mallesons, Psychological Safety Australia, and the Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia, ChapmanCG was delighted to host a highly engaging and thought-provoking HR Leaders Exchange on Wellness and Beyond: Building Organisations that Thrive. Over 150 HR Leaders from around Australia, New Zealand, and Asia attended the event to learn more about the latest research and approaches to addressing workplace psychological health and safety in an impactful and sustainable way.

Why is Psychological Health and Safety Important?

The cost of psychological health issues is at unprecedented levels and the impact of the pandemic on employee mental health is yet to be fully realised. We know that pre-COVID-19, the cost to society and business was substantial:

  • Workplace mental ill-health cost Australia up to $39 billion in lost participation and productivity.
  • Approximately, 3 million working Australians have mental ill-health or care for someone with mental ill-health.
  • $13 billion is lost by Australian businesses each year due to untreated mental health conditions through absenteeism, reduced productivity, and compensation claims.  
  • 70 % of employees do not seek help for their mental health and less than 3% use an Employee Assistance Program.

Aside from the financial costs to businesses and the economy, Ingrid Jenkins, HR Lead at Microsoft ANZ, highlighted many qualitative reasons why creating a psychologically safe and healthy workplace is important. Creating a psychologically safe and healthy workplace is an essential factor in building an organisation that can grow and thrive. It is the company’s responsibility to provide a workplace that is safe and healthy for team members, colleagues, leaders, and it is increasingly a differentiator as talent assess their current and future employment prospects. Ingrid also mentioned that effectively managing mental health can help facilitate a more diverse and inclusive environment – “Diversity & inclusion is at the heart of Microsoft’s culture and I believe supporting our team members to be mentally healthy enables each of them to be more empathetic and inclusive of others.”

Like many organisations, Microsoft ANZ has implemented and tested a variety of well-being initiatives including personal fitness, yoga, resilience and stress management training, expert guest speakers, training of managers, and storytelling. All these initiatives were aimed to support employee well-being and mental health. However, these initiatives, whilst appreciated, didn’t achieve the desired results. Ingrid took the opportunity to listen and learn from experts, inspiring her to shift her focus to consider a more fundamental approach to employee mental health and well-being.

I realised we need to stop asking our team members to be more resilient and instead focus on those things that are requiring them to be more resilient.

Ingrid Jenkins, HR Lead, Microsoft ANZ

With that, Microsoft ANZ is investing in closely examining the heart of the organisation and the way it works – be it culture; leadership behaviours; organisational and role design; the reasonableness of role demands – in hopes this will truly shift the dial.  This transformation shift is essentially a shift of focus from individual resilience to organisational resilience.

Beyond Fruit Bowls and Yoga: How to Address Psychological Health & Safety Effectively

David Burroughs, Partner at Psychological Safety Australia, revealed that psychological safety and psychological health and safety are fast becoming two of the hottest concepts in the workplace mental health and well-being domain. However, both suffer from considerable concept confusion, are often misunderstood, and remain somewhat elusive. Psychological safety is the sense that we can share our feelings, beliefs, and experiences openly at work without fear of retribution or status loss and operates as a group-level phenomenon. Whereas Psychological Health and Safety is about preventing psychological harm at work and promoting mental health and operates at a psychosocial systems level. They are related concepts and both critical in our new ways of work to maximise performance and mitigate risk.

Whilst the research and data was available 20 years ago, organisations still fail to understand the root causes of psychological health and safety issues. Many wellness programs have been largely ineffective as a result.

David believes that organisations need to dig deeper to find the root cause of psychological health and safety problems. Positive intention does not equal positive outcomes. Resilience training, happiness training, mental health awareness, expert speakers, and many other well-being initiatives that do not address organisational barriers to mental health have proven to be ineffective or at times may end up being harmful.

In his experience working with corporates, David revealed that problems in the psychosocial climate of the organisation are the real issue. Psychosocial factors include aspects such as the demands of work, job design, interpersonal relationships, the leadership, work–individual interference, offensive behaviour, and workplace culture.

The research indicates that good work/job design is critical for preventing harm, enhanced well-being, and increased productivity. Professor Sharon Parker, Director at the Centre for Transformative Work Design in Perth, says that work design – which includes the content and organisation of one’s work tasks, activities, relationships, and responsibilities – has a profound impact on individual health, well-being, and motivation, as well as the health and productivity of teams and organisations. The challenge is that managers, leaders and organisations are not very skilled and knowledgeable about work design. Good design elements cover the psychological risks and psychosocial risks associated with certain work and work environment.

Job designing is harder than just mental illness awareness raising. It is sophisticated. There is a lack of qualified people in this area despite the corporate appetite being high.

David Burroughs, Partner at Psychological Safety Australia

David outlined the key elements of an effective psychological health strategy and highlighted these key messages in his conclusion; emotion isn’t evidence, experience is not the same as expertise, popularity is not a proxy for effectiveness, you can’t “out-train” poor job design or intolerable work demands, and the problem to solve is rarely the person.

Psychological Well-being Case Study: King & Wood Mallesons

Jo McAlpine, Head of Talent and Capability at King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), shared a thought-provoking Case Study on the way in which the firm used their own data and analysis to identify what the firm could do to positively impact the psychological well-being of their people. After analysing 75,000 data points including engagement surveys, qualitative feedback, policy review, exit interview data, and financial data, they identified three key factors which would improve psychological well-being within KWM’s operating model and culture:

  1. Belonging, loyalty, and job satisfaction – career conversations and clear career pathways.
  2. Fairness, recognition, and authenticity – recognising the right things, that communication at a firm level is reflected in the experience of teams and fair application of policies.
  3. Autonomy, workload, perception, and flexibility – strengthening the relationship with the partner (as a foundation for a high level of trust) is the biggest lever to improving people’s sense of autonomy, managing workloads, and knowing that they can work flexibly.

These components tap into the internal reality of each of us and influences whether we are motivated to work with purpose, want to stay and have a career here, and when we think about our jobs and workplace, think it is positively contributing towards our psychological well-being.

Jo McAlpine, Head of Talent and Capability at King & Wood Mallesons

All three well-being components were found to correlate with billable hours performance. The data showed that you can have highly productive, profitable, motivated teams willing to put in additional discretionary effort with high psychological well-being.

Perception of leadership was found to be the strongest unique factor that predicted performance. The data, together with the presentation of targeted strategies, is continuing to be used to influence change.

Resources to Support your Organisation’s Mental Health Strategy

Dr Kim Hamrosi, Executive Director of the Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia (CMHAA), provided an overview of this new business-led, expert-guided member organisation dedicated to providing mentally healthy workplaces for all people. It currently has 21 member organisations which span across business sectors and includes Microsoft, King & Wood Mallesons, PwC, Johnson & Johnson, Woolworths, and Coles. 

CMHAA’s vision, at the highest level, is that the Alliance serves not just its members but all 13 million working Australians. It takes an open approach, which means its research and learnings are available to all and it aims to contribute to the creation of psychologically safe and mentally healthy workplaces across the country.

Its current focus is on providing insights and resources to its corporate members in relation to: 

  • Psychosocial Risk Assessment
  • Research & Data including an Annual Mental Health Survey for Members
  • Leadership Capabilities Toolkit
  • Psychosocial Factors and the Role of Work for Leadership
  • Early in Career Network and Program

The CMHAA’s Expert Advisory Group also comprises leading thinkers and advisors in mental health that provide input and guidance. We encourage organisations to contact the CMHAA and explore becoming a member and gaining access to resources, events, working groups, and the member network.


The case for implementing targeted strategies to address psychological health and safety issues in the workplace is overwhelmingly compelling. Aside from the fact that it’s the right thing to do morally and ethically, every good business leader knows that if you look after the people they will look after the profit. 

At ChapmanCG, we have seen psychological health and safety move towards the top of the HR agenda and we’ve seen an increase in the number of Chief Mental Health Officer and Head of Health and Well-being appointments in corporates around the world. Effective frameworks and resources are available and a data driven approach underpins success in effecting organisational change. Thank you to our guest speakers Ingrid Jenkins, HR Lead at Microsoft ANZ, David Burroughs, Partner at Psychological Safety Australia, Jo McAlpine, Head of Talent & Capability at King & Wood Mallesons, and Dr Kim Hamrosi, Executive Director at the Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia for sharing insights and guidance that provide us with a path forward.


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