Top firms band together to advocate for workplace mental health

Four major firms are among the 15 founding members of Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia

Top firms band together to advocate for workplace mental health

Top firms Clayton Utz, King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), MinterEllison and DLA Piper have come together in the fight for mental health in the workplace.

The firms are among the 15 founding members of Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia (CMHAA), which was launched on Tuesday with participation from Health Minister Greg Hunt MP. AIA Australia, Allianz Australia, Bunnings Group, Coles Group, Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies, KPMG, Microsoft Australia, Woolworths Group and PwC Australia are also among the founders of the organisation.

“The alliance’s 15 founding members – many of them direct competitors – recognise that the mental wellbeing of their employees transcends market dynamics, and that working together will give them the best chance of delivering real impact for their people,” CMHAA said in a press release.

Feelings of anxiety and uncertainty have skyrocketed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with isolation, home-related stress and financial troubles adding to existing work-related mental issues such as work pressure, sexual or racial harassment and bullying and exposure to violence in the workplace. Mental health support organisations like Beyond Blue and Lifeline have already reported a roughly 30% boost in demand for services, the CMHAA said, making the establishment of the organisation all the more crucial in this time.

“The alliance has the potential to really accelerate a change in the way Australia approaches workplace mental health,” said Melinda Upton, a partner at DLA Piper and a member of the CMHAA board. “Its reach extends not only to the workforces of its members, but also to the workforces of other companies and stakeholder groups that they interact with. The footprint that we can have across Australia is substantial.”

The CMHAA seeks to deliver on three strategic priorities:

  • provide safe settings
  • empower leaders
  • drive lasting change

“Core to the alliance’s approach will be engagement with mental health experts, to test the alliance’s thinking and to come up with new ways as a community to raise the bar on workplace mental health,” the organisation said.

Lucy Brogden AM, who chairs the National Mental Health Commission and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, is part of the CMHAA’s 15-strong expert advisory group.

“The Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia has the potential to be a powerful voice for change on workplace mental health. It’s effectively an extensive network of mental health champions across the Australian business community, who are each saying in unison, this is really important to us. We are committed to this. We are here to be a part of the change,” she said.

Clayton Utz CEP Bruce Cooper highlighted the “non-partisan and cooperative” nature of the organisation.

“Members can share strategies and insights. We can be open and authentic about the challenges we’re facing. We can talk freely about how we’re tackling them, what’s working and what’s not. None of us will have all the answers, but as a collective we will have better answers,” he said. “Clayton Utz is supporting Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia because it is business-led and expert-guided. The combination of these two approaches offers a pragmatic perspective on how organisations can create mentally healthy workplaces.”

KWM CEP Berkeley Cox echoed Cooper’s sentiments, and said that the CMHAA has “a unique spirit of cooperation.” Moreover, he said that there is strong commitment at the top levels to generate an environment where employee well-being is supported and staff can thrive.

“I believe that, together, we have the potential to have a material impact on psychological wellbeing in Australian workplaces,” Cox said.

MinterEllison CEO and managing partner Annette Kimmitt, who battled post-natal depression, emphasised the importance of addressing the issue of mental health at work.

“Mental health, for me, is all about psychological fitness. Feeling well, enjoying the challenges of life and work, and feeling equipped to deal with what’s in front of you in the workplace,” she said. “That headspace allows you to support family, friends and colleagues as well.”

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