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  • Writer's picturePeak Performance International

Supporting Employers to Create Mentally Healthy Workplaces

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

by Linley Watson, CEO Peak Performance International

Work-related psychological injuries have become a major concern in Australian workplaces. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the negative impacts of stress, psychologically unsafe work cultures, lack of role clarity and poor work/life boundaries on individual employees and highlighted the associated costs for businesses of injury claims and reputational damage.

Even before the pandemic one in five Australians reportedly had a mental illness (Beyond Blue, 2019). In 2018, Mental Health Australia reported that the direct financial cost of mental illness to business each year was a staggering $12.8 billion. At that point, only 3.5% of employees were accessing business-funded Employee Assistance Programs (only 1% of Senior Leaders).

More recently, a 2020 study (The Other COVID-19 Crisis: Mental Health) of more than 2,000 employees in Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and the US revealed that two out of five (41.6%) respondents felt their mental health had declined since the COVID-19 outbreak. In the early days of the pandemic moving to a new remote or alternative work arrangement had a significant impact with 65.9% reporting higher levels of stress, and on the home front 79.5% of those newly home-schooling their children reported increased anxiety.

In May 2021 SafeWork NSW (along with other SafeWork Authorities around Australia) released the Code of Practice for Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work. The Code outlined the real risks to employees and workplaces when psychosocial hazards at work are not effectively managed, including work-related psychological and physical injuries, incidents and errors. It stated that organisations have a duty of care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health (including psychological health) and safety of their employees, whether onsite or working remotely.

An International Standard has also recently been released (June 2021) which provides guidance on protecting workers’ psychological health. ISO 45003, Occupational health and safety management – Psychological health and safety at work – Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks, gives guidance on managing psychological health and safety risks within an occupational health and safety management system.

To help clients understand and fulfill their obligations under WorkSafe legislation, the RSM Risk Advisory Services team is partnering with people and culture consultancy Peak Performance International to conduct Mental Health Reviews. The review process evaluates the policies, processes and systems in place to detect and respond to employee mental health risks, the strengths of current practices and improvement opportunities. It also highlights current best practice workplace mental health and wellbeing (MH&WB) frameworks and principles that are emerging, the latest statistics on workplace MH&WB in Australia, current governing legislation and foundational knowledge and facts including legal responsibilities and psychosocial risks and hazards.

“The recommendations raised in the Mental Health Review are intended to assist clients in strengthening their framework around the mental health management process and enhance the governance and resilience of their systems. It is an important benchmark for them to create a mentally healthy work environment and for mitigating the risks and impacts of work-related psychological injury”, said Tim Pittaway, Partner RSM Australia.

The current momentum of proactive and preventative approaches that focus on keeping workers mentally well and effectively measure the benefit and value to business, people and their communities is an emerging area. According to Gabriel Edwards, Mental Health & Wellbeing Associate at Peak Performance International, while many workplaces are implementing initiatives addressing health and wellbeing, many still do this in an ad-hoc or inconsistent way without proof of effectiveness.

“The key to a successful mental health and wellbeing program is creating an accurate health profile, identifying unique organisational health risks against a psychosocial framework, consulting deeply with employees to identify engagement triggers and establishing rigorous measures and tracking systems. If these elements form part of an integrated MH&WB Strategy, the outcomes are sustained and ensure return on investment”, said Edwards.


Addressing immediate risk and complying with occupational health laws and regulations is essential for all organisations. For those wanting to improve, the characteristics of best practice Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategies are:

  1. Profiling organisational health risk and demographics

  2. Establishing MH&WB Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for leaders and organisation performance

  3. Designing a ‘branded’ employee MH&WB program for targeted, recognisable and coordinated delivery across the workforce

  4. Evaluating effectiveness against established people, culture and health and safety measures including employee participation rates and feedback

  5. Measurement of impact and return on investment

A healthy workplace is one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace. World Health Organization (WHO), 2010.

Creating a culture of wellbeing is a growing goal for organisations globally with Australia and New Zealand leading the way, driving aggressive goals for positive culture change to support the mental health and wellbeing of employees. While it's undeniable the Pandemic has shone a light on the devastating impacts of workplace psychosocial hazards, it also provides a unique opportunity and imperative for leaders to review their current workplace conditions and establish an integrated and sustainable workplace mental health and wellbeing strategy. The individual, commercial and community benefits are compelling.

Contact Peak Performance for a confidential discussion about how you can improve mental health and wellbeing in your organisation.

Linley Watson

As co-founder and CEO of Peak Performance International (PPI), Linley energises her organisation's purpose to "connect people and ideas to unlock potential, inspire peak performance and accelerate growth." Her strength lies in understanding each client's unique business challenges and bringing the right people and tools together to solve them. Linley has a special interest in assessing and developing organisational culture. She is an authority on merger and acquisition (M&A) culture integration and the author of “Avoiding the M&A Failure Club (What the numbers don’t reveal)”. Linley is also a sought-after executive coach and mentor and the creator of REIDAR, a holistic coaching framework that combines transformative coaching conversations and complementary healing practices.

Gabriel Edwards

Gabriel is a highly regarded thought leader in leadership and workplace mental health and wellbeing. She designed and facilitates a pioneering workplace mental health & wellbeing program that enables public and private sector leaders to maintain mentally healthy workplaces and has a unique counseling practice to fill the current gap in mental health support for leaders across Australia. Gabriel works with Peak Performance International as an Associate and Workplace Mental Health and Well-being expert.


Having grown into one of Australia’s leading professional services firms over the last 100 years, RSM Australia is committed to enabling clients through a greater understanding of what matters most to their business. In addition to local knowledge provided by advisers in 32 offices across Australia, RSM draws on their international reach and scale to ensure clients stay at the forefront of the world’s best practices, technology and innovation within a rapidly changing global economy.


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