In Part 1, we looked at how tech roles now exist in practically every business.

In Part 2, we examined our changing work patterns and how remote working has become the new normal.

Here in Part 3, we look at the growing focus on mental health initiatives in the workplace.

The pandemic has spurred a rethink among much of the population about works role in our lives and a shift in work-life balance.

The growth of the ‘great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ have become commonplace examples of how differently people are approaching work now, and the differing expectations from the workplace.

This is being recognised by employers.

According to data from recruiter Seek, there has been a substantial increase in references to mental health in job advertisements, and a quarter of all workers say that this is a must-have.

The portion of job ads on Seek that referenced mental health and wellbeing support in the workplace increased from 8 per cent in 2016 to 25 per cent last year.

“There’s not only been a shift in day-to-day conversations in the workplace around boundaries, but workplaces are also taking more responsibility for the mental wellbeing of their people,” the Seek report said.

But too often workplace mental health initiatives can be seen as being mere tick-boxes exercises, rather than meaningful efforts to ensure workers are healthy and happy.

Conversations around mental health are now normal and supported in the workplace, Culture Amp lead people scientist Tony Tran said.

“For all workers, COVID-19 brought to light a greater focus on mental health,” Tran told Information Age.

“With people having to be confined to their homes, isolated from friends, families and co-workers, mental ill-health increased globally. The biggest positive contribution that the pandemic had was that the conversation around mental health has become more prevalent than ever, even now when lockdowns are less commonplace.

“We are certainly seeing a trend towards recognising mental health hazards and risks in the same way we see physical health hazards and risks to the point where psychosocial regulations came into effect in the Comcare jurisdiction in April.”

BDO director of industrial and organisational psychology Scott Way said these issues now regularly come up during job interviews.

“This is now being asked about at interviews, it’s now beholden on organisations to be communicating that stuff to current and potential employees,” Way told Information Age.

It’s important that any workplace initiative in this realm looks to address the structural issues that may be contributing to employee ill-health, Tran said.

“Organisations need to be mindful that they’re not just providing bandage solutions and are actually considering the underlying causes,” he said.

According to Culture Amp data, in the year since 2020, managers have improved significantly in terms of their interpersonal skills such as caring.

Employee criticisms of workplace mental health initiatives often target schemes that place significant emphasis on individual accountability, such as resilience training, lunch yoga or meditation.

“It’s almost become a bit of a meme with these kinds of solutions being mocked,” Tran said.

“I think the reason for that is that these solutions don’t take into account factors outside of the individuals control, like poor job design, overly demanding work or the lack of fairness in organisational practices.

“I don’t think any of these solutions are bad – I’m sure they can be helpful – but wellbeing is a complicated issue that is likely going to need a multifaceted approach that looks at the thing the individual has control over, but also what the organisation has control over.”

It’s also important that companies are wary of overstepping the mark into their employees’ private lives, Way said.

“We do advise organisations that they don’t try to be a surrogate mental health service or financial planning service,” he said.

“Organisations have to be a bit careful about how far they go so they don’t overreach. They do need to make sure that staff are engaging, supported, listened to and given the opportunity to do their best.”

These sort of initiatives also need the backing of the top executives at a company in order to be effective.

“The better organisations were better at communicating openly and honestly with staff, saying this is good, this is doable and are clear and unambiguous,” Way said.

“And they tend to be directly from the horse’s mouth. It comes from senior leadership rather than local teams.”

Unfortunately, mental health initiatives can often be seen as must-haves for higher paid individuals, and want-to-haves for lower paid employees.

“Once you’re above a certain wage level, money tends to fall off the radar for Australians by and large,” Way said.

“The primary motivator for Australians to go to work is to do stuff that is deemed to be worthwhile and to get on okay with the folks we do it with.

“As part of that package, the wellbeing stuff is in there, that suite of wellbeing services is in that package. But if they’re on minimum wage or struggling to pay the bills then the hierarchy of needs kicks in and pay rises to the forefront.”

The lessons of the pandemic and the increase in popularity in workplace mental health initiatives will be vital during the upcoming period of economic uncertainty and instability.

“As we quickly transition to our next period of uncertainty with the looming economic crisis, there’s certainly a lot we can learn from what people leaders did well and where they likely needed extra support during the pandemic,” Tran said.

Next: In the final part of our Workplaces of the Future series, we look at the rise of entrepreneurship.