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Mental Health Leadership: “From a societal perspective, this is the issue of our time.”

Mental Health Leadership: “From a societal perspective, this is the issue of our time.”
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Steven Worrall, Chair of the Corporate Mental Health Alliance of Australia, talks about the organisation's inaugural year.

Steven Worrall is Managing Director, Microsoft Australia & New Zealand and Chair of the Corporate Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) of Australia, which launched in October 2020.

We spoke to Steven about the organisation’s inaugural year and discovered his motivation for getting involved:

“I've always been passionate about mental health, and in particular in the workplace. It's been my lived experience over my career, that there have been times when I've not been at my best, and I know there've been teams that I've worked in that have not been at their best because psychological safety wasn't established within that group.

“As a leader, I want to be the very best leader that I can be, and I think it's just very obvious then that any leader who aspires to be the best they can is going to want to work out how to create psychological safety at work.”

Do you feel that these views are shared widely among your peers in Australia’s business community?

“I don't engage with many leaders who don't acknowledge the important role that they play in helping to establish the wellbeing of their teams, so that those teams can then be at their best. But of course, the definition of wellbeing has evolved. There's no organisation that consciously sets out to create the conditions where physical harm could be a by-product of being at work, and I think what we're doing here in the Alliance is extending that to psychological safety. Now, when we talk about wellbeing, we talk about it in its full sense, both mental and physical health.

“Given the rates of anxiety and stress in the community, from a societal perspective this is the issue of our time and for the 13 million Australians who are in the workforce in our country, there's so much more that needs to be done to establish psychological safety as one of the basic bedrocks and platforms for every workplace across our country.”

What have been your highlights from CMHA Australia so far?

“As I look back on the last year, there've been many highlights. I think from the moment we launched in October of 2020 with our Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, we've been focused on having impact with our members. We’ve run sessions that have included a collaboration with the peak business body here in Australia, the Business Council of Australia (BCA), and a series of member insight and exchange sessions where we've come together to share credible practice. And we've also engaged extensively with the expert advisory group, who have been giving us such great advice to help us as business leaders create more psychologically safe workplaces here in Australia.

“The Alliance has quickly gained support and traction. We started with 15 members and we've grown rapidly now to 22 including some of the largest employers in the country, representing hundreds of thousands of working Australians. We're seeing engagement across Government, business leaders, the BCA, and many other organisations.”

Looking ahead, what do you anticipate will be the big mental health issues for the Alliance?

“As we look ahead to 2022 and beyond, I think our members are deeply concerned about the impact of the pandemic. We're thinking about how we as business leaders adjust to create psychologically safe workplaces that suit the context of our different industries. For example, our retailers here in Australia have been at the frontline in helping our communities to get through this time, as they have been in many countries around the world. And the unique situation and the unique considerations that we need to apply in retail require deep thought, as they do in banking or finance, or in mining, or in the provision of health services.

“There's also a lot of discussion going on in particular around people early in their careers, and the implications that we've seen for our younger cohort through the pandemic.”

What do you think makes the CMHA well placed to make a positive impact?

“I think the power of the Alliance is in the basic belief that we are stronger together. This belief has been strengthened over the last two years as we have seen how indiscriminate the virus has been, impacting all of us – we all have mental health and poor mental health can impact anyone. That, for me, has been the most significant impact of the Alliance here in Australia; this sense of collectivism, the idea that together we can improve, together we can share and learn.”


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