Addressing Psychological Wellbeing: A Guide

Paul Flanagan, Director and Founder of Life Street knows about psychological wellbeing and organisational programs. As founder of Davidson Trahaire Corpsych and a clinical and organisational psychologist with over 30 years’ experience, Paul has played an integral role in shaping the wellbeing landscape from Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), workplace mental health and behavioural risk management to wellbeing strategy.

Organisations have become very interested supporting the psychological wellbeing of their employees. Our increased understanding of the role employee wellbeing has on engagement and productivity, has led to a variety of workplace responses and initiatives being put in place. Organisations are considering awareness talks, mental health training, Resilience workshops, CBT apps and culture reviews. There are a lot of activities on offer-what to do?

The first step is getting clarity and alignment around what your organisation wants to achieve in addressing psychological wellbeing. Getting this right will determine if you will be looking back at ‘wellbeing’ as a fad that ‘came and went’, or if managing psychological wellbeing has become an integral part of the role and value that HR and WHS brings.

Questions to start thinking about:
1. What is the role and responsibilities of your organisation in managing and enhancing wellbeing?
2. From an HR or WHS perspective, what are your objectives regarding employee psychological wellbeing and mental health?
3. Therefore, what types of strategies or programs are appropriate and effective?

Scenario# 1
Your organisation may want to be part of a general community awareness campaign to raise community awareness and support for social issues such as mental health, domestic violence or drug problems. If so, your objectives may include increasing employee awareness and providing workplace flexibility and professional help for those affected. This can be achieved through information and policy inclusions integrated with a ‘one-stop’ assistance program for all such issues.

Scenario #2
Alternatively, your organisation may need to better manage psychological risk reflected in low engagement, burn-out, turnover or claims. This may apply broadly, or to specific areas or roles. Here your strategies will need to be broader and deeper to be an effective organisational intervention to achieve your risk mitigation objectives. The recommended strategies here depend on the psycho-social risk analysis so that the program is evidence based and not ‘latest trend’ driven, and has a solid, cost benefit foundation. Program components for this scenario might include a wellbeing diagnostic to help identify root causes, an employee risk identification and management process and action that addresses contributing factors over the longer term.

Scenario # 3
The third scenario is perhaps the most common- your organisation wants to support the wellbeing of all employees with their various and changing wellbeing needs. In this scenario, the focus is on a program which is positive and motivating for all employees, that also makes a real difference for individuals whose wellbeing is compromised or being eroded due to issues inside or outside of work. This points to a dual strategy that supports positive wellbeing on a group basis while helping individuals with wellbeing risk on an individual basis.

There are two Core principles that can be applied when considering what approaches are most effective for this scenario.

  • One’s sense of wellbeing is ongoing part of life- it fluctuates and the issues impacting wellbeing are varied and change over time. Supporting employee wellbeing is a process that requires an ongoing ‘program’ approach with an interactive set of activities that work together as a whole to achieve sustainable results. It not a series of activities or a one-off event or training program.
  • Employee wellbeing across the workforce is best supported by addressing the issues that impact wellbeing, not by focussing directly on the negative, end state, such as mental health conditions. For a program to have impact it needs to engage the whole workforce and to do this it needs to proactively address issues that are important to all employees.

Working through what your organisation wants to achieve in addressing wellbeing will help you frame the scope and focus of your wellbeing plan and point to the type of activities or program that is required.