We got in touch with Anna Feringa, Head of Mental Health Operations at the Jonah Group to learn all about her work, and find out her thoughts on the current state of workplace mental health.
Tell me a bit about your work/ what you do?
I am the Head of Mental Health Operations and Principal Consultant for The Jonah Group, we help Industry create a physically and mentally safe workplace to improve culture and performance. We specialise in safety, leadership and mental health. Specifically, in the space of workplace mental health, I work directly with clients supporting them to embed a value for mental health as part of their existing safety systems. This could involve integrating mental health considerations into the existing safety systems and provide mental health awareness training for managers and employees so they know what signs to look for and what they can do to support a mentally safe workplace. It also involves implementing our Mental Health Blueprint, designed to transform organisational performance and culture, ensuring a sustainable approach to a mentally healthy workplace. I can be in high heels one day and steel caps the next as no industry is immune to the ever-increasing need for mental health management in the workplace.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of our job at The Jonah Group is a no brainer – saving lives and improving safety culture. From my personal perspective as a workplace mental health expert, I simply love the gratitude people have when we uncomplicate the already feared and stigmatised area of mental health. The amazing feeling you get when a person comes up to you and now understands what they need to do for themselves, their work mates, family or friend’s is the most rewarding part of my job. People are after a human, empathetic, no nonsense approach to upskilling in the area of mental health at work and we are proud to be able to deliver this medium based on our reputational force.
What are some of the most significant challenges you face in your work?
The most significant challenges we face related to mental health, is organisational resistance or readiness. It’s either ‘we don’t have the time’, ‘we don’t have the resources’, ‘we don’t have the budget’ or we see tokenistic commitments, yet 1 in 5 of their employees is currently struggling with mental health issues. Poor mental health is now the leading cause of workplace disability across our country and indeed globally. Ironically, poor mental health in the workplace underpins low productivity, increased absenteeism and more expensive mental injury claims, which is where most industries are haemorrhaging time, budget and resourcing. On a more personal note, responding to mental health critical incidents is always an emotional challenge especially when a suicide has occurred, as supporting the respective business to respond appropriately and supporting their staff from an ongoing perspective is always a challenge. We often witness firsthand the devastating impact this has on the people that worked alongside someone that has taken their life. Unfortunately, this is one of our services that is in the greatest demand due to the ever-increasing suicide rates across Australia.
What are some of the most innovative or exciting changes you have seen in this sector since you started working in it?
I wish I could say ‘many’ in my 18 years in the industry but that would not be realistic. The realisation that mental health is indeed a safety concept across Australian workplaces has been a very slow burn. Innovation is quite restricted as industry is still grappling with the basics of workplace mental health. What I am excited about is the increase in federal budget for mental health services which has a direct impact on workplace mental health. Alongside this is the recognition from the NSW Govt that more guidance, compliance and measurement is desperately needed around the area of mental health in the workplace. Australian business is essentially flying blind in this area which is dangerous and unfair for Australian employers. SafeWork NSW has this week released Psychosocial Hazards: Codes of Practice which is an exciting shift from moving workplace mental health from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’. Other States are yet to follow suit. There are always developments at a micro level with online training, self-assessment apps and distribution on guidance materials from nationally endorsed mental health institutions which is great, however for these innovations to really have an impact, we need to get workplace mental health introduced as a Govt recommended safety requirement. Safety in numbers if you will! Only then we will be in a better position to innovate.
Why do you think it is important for workplaces to focus on and prioritise the mental health of employees?
With mental health being the leading cause of workplace disability across Australia, it should be at the top of any strategic plan for any organisation. However, we are not quite there yet. The concept of mental health as a safety initiative does not necessarily land well. It needs to be nurtured through tailored workplace education to ensure that organisations have the knowledge of how to join the dots when it comes to low productivity, high absenteeism, toxic workplace culture and increased Mental Injury claims. Other than poor mental health impacting performance, resourcing and the bottom line, the most dangerous impact, if left unattended, is employer reputation– let’s face it, no one wants to work somewhere that is perceived to not care, and this will spread like wildfire across any community considering the rate of people that are experiencing mental health challenges.
If organisations are feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to start, what are your top strategies/tips that can be simply implemented?
- Talk to us. We provide a free discovery session to help you identify where to start and your organisational readiness for change.
- Consider implementing a psychological safety diagnosis – do you know where your pain points are, what your psychological hazards are and opportunities to leverage of existing initiatives.
- Implement a simple and clear Mental Health Policy and Procedure. No doubt you have one for safety. You are only 50% safe if you do not consider mental health.
- Raise mental health awareness by educating your people to know what signs to look for, what they can do and importantly, what the boundaries in the conversation are. Mental health conversations are often perceived as uncomfortable or scary because people don’t know how to have them and not get overwhelmed.
- Get real about your organisations commitment to mental health and consider you may need to build a business case to invest. Remember, the poster on the back of a toilet door will not do the trick… would you do this with PPE requirements or environmental hazards – I think not.
Workplace mental health consultant
GLOBAL TOP 10 HEALTH AND SAFETY INFLUENCER 2020 BACHELOR OF PSYCHOLOGY (HONS)
CERTIFIED DISABILITY MANAGEMENT PROFESSIONAL (CDMP)
MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID FACILITATOR
INTRODUCTION TO RETURN TO WORK COORDINATION FACILITATOR