WELLNESS@WORK: The economic impact of healthier workers is well established; now some of WA’s most successful wellbeing programs want to achieve more, by promoting a culture of wellness at work.
Mark Dean and his team of behaviour-change consultants are focused on improving wellbeing, workplace culture and productivity.
A lot has happened in the workplace mental health space during the past decade.
Ten years ago, Mark Dean was working on conflict resolution and becoming increasingly aware that workplace conflict was usually the messy result of poorly managed workplace behaviours.
He could see opportunities for early intervention and prevention that could reduce harm to employees, reduce disruption and minimise stress-related compensation claims; but the emphasis in occupational safety and health at the time was firmly fixed on minimising the risk of physical injuries.
In 2010, Mr Dean took the bold move of founding a company called En Masse. The decision proved a timely one, as the business launch coincided with a growing appreciation of the importance of attending to harassment, stress and mental health throughout the business and industrial sectors.
Based in Victoria, En Masse is a team of behaviour-change consultants helping organisations across Australia: “To build positive results in the areas of mental health, wellbeing, workplace culture, productivity, values, ethics, equal opportunity and psychological health and safety.”
The company assesses its clients’ needs and then designs, implements and evaluates behaviour-change programs. These range from click-through online courses about bullying to a catalogue of workshops, courses and bespoke interventions.
While the business is now doing well, it wasn’t all easy. Mr Dean recalls the tough first few years when awareness of workplace mental health was only just gaining traction.
He was not alone in seeing the need, however. Over the past few years, academics, insurance companies and Safe Work Australia have all been looking into the issue and publishing results.
Safe Work Australia put the cost of workplace mental stress in 2012-13 at more than $3 billion, with claims averaging $292,000 per case. Another report by the agency documented that the median time lost for serious mental health-related worker’s compensation claims rose from 11.2 weeks in FY2000-01 to 17 weeks in FY2015-16, making it more expensive for employers to run damaging workplaces.
In addition, there have been shifts in the way courts have ruled on these issues during the past, while huge online campaigns (such as #MeToo) have normalised the experience of finding harassment harmful.
In addition, Mr Dean said, there had been a reduction in the shame that used to constrain complaints about harassment and bullying.
The upshot of these shifts is that En Masse is now operating in a very different world to the one into which it was launched, and as a business it is now targeting international horizons.
Mr Dean said En Masse had just delivered a global training program for a client with offices in Australia, Hong Kong, China, Japan, South Korea, the US, Germany and Switzerland. All staff received the same program with the same materials, but the delivery was nuanced to make it appropriate for the different cultural settings and different legal systems.
“We now have senior facilitators in all of those places able to work with the company offices, so they can work harmoniously together and still be attuned to, and compliant with, their local setting,” Mr Dean said.
The company differs from others in its sector in that it offers a full spectrum of products and services, from prevention strategies to managing conflict and getting back on track.
He said the integration of legal and psychological services was another key differentiating feature that enabled clear reporting of efforts and outcomes.
The company’s offerings also include personal development workshops and coaching to enhance decision-making and productivity.
While keeping everyone happy and stress-free at work sounds like a feel-good ethical goal, Mr Dean said he was realistic about what motivated companies.
“Wellbeing goals are morally and ethically compelling enough for some organisations, but others are not so attuned to those ethical obligations and commitments, so we can help them to measure, track and report their return on investment,” he said.
Far from being hard-hearted, risk reduction is a logical part of corporate insurance management.
Insurance giant BUPA is one of En Masse’s many clients. As well as being listed as an approved wellness service provider working for BUPA’s customers, En Masse provides workshops and online programs to BUPA staff.
Mr Dean said forging arrangements like this with BUPA had been a key strategy in integrating mental health prevention and management in many WA corporate and government workplaces, making work a safer and happier place to be.