Menzies Institute for Medical Research

The inaugural year of The Mind Games Race for Research, a total of $70,000 was donated to The Menzies Institute for Medical Research to continue their work into mental health in the workplace.

As part of the donation of funds, the Menzies Centre nominated The Mind Games Scholar, Adam Nebbs to continue research into this important field.

We welcome Adam, and look forward to his regular updates

Hi Folks!

Adam Nebbs, the Mind Games Scholar, here for an update on my research.

I have spent a lot of time reading up on the subject and have to say this is an extraordinarily complex topic! I am in the process of submitting my first research plan as we speak. These are dynamic plans but at this stage it looks like I will be starting with a review of what assessment tools are available for businesses to determine their mental health management practices.

The areas of interest that I would like to talk about are:

  1. The impacts of COVID-19 on mental health
  2. The complex landscape that informs mental health management at work
  3. The impact of workplace politics and psychological safety on mental health at work

The impacts of COVID-19 on mental health 

There is a lot of research out there to demonstrate that people’s mental health is worsening because of the pandemic. In Australia in the first month of COVID-19 it was shown from a survey of nearly 14,000 Australians that 25% of these people showed mild to moderate symptoms of depression and anxiety. That is just from a clinical symptomatology though, another study of nearly 5000 Australians produced results demonstrating that 78% of people said their mental health had worsened. Studies completed in the UK, US and Canada also demonstrate that mental health is getting worse and that strategies were needed to combat this rising issue.

The complex landscape that informs mental health management at work 

So, we know that having a mentally healthy workplace is where we want to be, and that it provides a good return on investment to workplaces, but how do you know where to begin? Well that is a great question, and I will try and summarise the answer briefly. We have ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ guidelines around mental health at work, the hard guidelines are those that usually come from SafeWork Australia or the Fairwork Commission and become legal when a state or territory accepts them. The soft guidelines are usually more comprehensive, come from not-for-profits like Beyond Blue, but have no legal standing. There is a huge amount of work happening internationally and nationally to create a comprehensive and (hopefully) legal standard. This will take time though so in the interim we really need to provide easy to use tools for workplaces to bring of these threads together.

The impact of workplace politics and psychological safety on mental health at work 

The other added effect of COVID-19 is the impact of job loss which the research tells us creates a heightened feeling of job insecurity. This is a problem as when people feel less secure in their work, they may demonstrate less prosocial behaviours and are less likely to speak up constructively about how businesses can make things better. If we consider then that a lot of the tools we utilise (this is from very early preliminary search) are aimed at the employee view it may be difficult for us to get a clear picture given people are less likely to speak up and/or be direct in their criticism. This issue only becomes worse in workplaces where there is perception of ‘politics’ or the extent to which people see their work environment as being characterised by illegitimate or self-serving activities.

It has never been more important to create and maintain healthy workplaces, it is a complex issue but the research we are doing is aligned to seeking solutions to the problems I have mentioned above. I will keep at it and keep you updated on how the research is progressing.