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July 29, 2022

Making a meaningful difference to workplace mental health

Over the past few years mental health has become a huge focus for individuals and workplaces alike. Which is hardly surprising given 1 in 5 Australians suffer from mental health issues ranging from depression to anxiety to PTSD. 
Partly as a result of the economic and social impact of the pandemic, mental health initiatives have increasingly become something of a selling point when it comes to attracting and retaining a workforce. But the question must be asked: how many companies are genuinely committed to changing the way they work to sustain good mental health for their teams, and how much of it is just lip service? 
Culture is more than perks  

Mental health isn’t about a long list of workplace perks, and it’s not just handing over the phone number for Lifeline. In reality, it’s about creating a culture that meaningfully supports your team in their day-to-day work, and understands individual needs – how different people like to communicate; how they like to be managed; and what support managers need to create genuine relationships with their team. This provides the foundation for the informal check-ins that are critical in understanding what’s going on beneath the surface for team members. 
Unintended consequences 

It could be easy to confuse some workplace benefits with a proper response to managing mental health. The truth is some initiatives designed to attract and reward employees can actually be detrimental to wellbeing. For example, the advertising industry has long been seen as having a big drinking and party culture, with everything from open bars to boozy lunches. And whilst times are changing, this research shows that excessive alcohol consumption is still commonplace and not great for mental wellbeing. 
Another pandemic-led initiative that’s proving to be divisive for many is around office and remote working policies. Whilst working from home can be very attractive to some employees, and indeed necessary for individuals with comorbidities, it can also lead to mental health issues of its own. As this article notes, studies have identified a decrease in mental health when working entirely remotely through feelings of isolation and disconnection, lack of clarity on performance, lack of motivation and even the inability to switch off. 
In addition, the face-to-face conversations that build workplace relationships and culture are lost. For some people that watercooler chat is the only chance they have to offload about stresses or to have that quick, informal side chat with someone about a project that’s gone off track. 
Remote work is undoubtedly here to stay. But it’s important to have a clear strategy around how and when it’s appropriate. A good example is AFFINITY’s introduction of Thinking Thursday, a meeting-free day designed to encourage all members of the agency to commit some deep focus to a key task. We’ve found many of our team use this as a day to work from home, whilst being in the office other days.  
In fact, Thinking Thursday was one of the key initiatives that led to AFFINITY being awarded the Most Outstanding Practice in Employee Wellbeing as part of the AFR Boss Best Places to Work awards recently. Overall, what we’ve learned in developing our wellbeing practice is that looking after our team’s mental health requires a holistic approach.  
Creating Australia’s Most Outstanding Employee Wellbeing Practice  

The following are just some of the initiatives we’ve introduced over time to build an overall culture of wellbeing to support our purpose of championing the power of thinking. 
1. Create a safe space 
One of our brand values is Collaboration and we live this by encouraging the team to ask questions, put their hand up when they need help or are unsure of a task. We believe in fostering a culture of experimentation where it’s ok to make mistakes as long as we’re learning from them. 
2. Provide purpose 
A sense of purpose is also key for employee satisfaction and wellbeing. It’s important for each team member to be clear on the expectations for their role, to know they’re making a positive impact with the work they’re doing, and to recognise that the company is dedicated to helping them learn and grow in their careers.  
3. Continuous feedback 
To provide support and guidance, we’ve replaced annual performance appraisals with monthly check-ins between managers and their team members to talk through issues, tasks and priorities for the month. It’s led by the individual and is a chance for them to raise anything that’s on their mind and ask for any feedback or support needed. 
4. Create effective work/life boundaries 
The often spoken of work/life balance is more important than ever for employees. Everyone needs the opportunity to switch off out of work so they can recharge their batteries and return to work refreshed and raring to go. To foster this, resourcing needs to be on point with employees being able to get their work done in the allocated time without unrealistic deadlines or time constraints. We also have a lights out at 6.30pm policy in the office, and have implemented a ban on communication outside of work hours (unless it’s an emergency) to allow our team to completely switch off. 
5. Open up  
Another of our brand values is Courage, and ultimately this is key in creating an open dialogue about mental health. We know mental illness is just as important as any other medical illness and encourage our team to talk about any issues they’re having with a trusted teammate or manager. We provide access to an Employee Assistance Program which is confidential and free for any member of our team who wants to discuss work or personal issues affecting their mental health.  
At AFFINITY, we’re big believers in Van Gogh’s philosophy that great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together. When designing for a leading work culture, remember it’s mostly about the incremental, small measures that add up to create an overall healthy environment.  
The benefits of a committing to building a meaningfully supportive culture should be obvious. Over the past 12 months we’ve had zero resignations and have traditionally had an exceedingly low turnover rate in an industry plagued by high churn. Aside from our team’s satisfaction, the quality of our work has never been greater – with a highly motivated team focused on Outcomes, our clients report equally high ratings of their relationships with us, the quality of our thinking and impact on their business. 
If you’re a thinker looking for a truly supportive environment to unleash your mind, get in touch with 
Or if you’re a brand owner seeking deeper connection between your people and your brand, our Brand Experience leaders would be excited to learn how they could boost your EX, drop a line to find out more. 


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