How to Create a Mentally Resilient & Robust Culture


Recent Australian research revealed that the leading causes of stress and disengagement were change fatigue (39%), not using personal strengths each day (37%), unclear priorities (35%) and not enough recognition and feedback (34%).

It is sobering to realize that depression and stress disorders currently account for 34% of lost productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism according to a Medibank study – and yet 86% of those afflicted would rather suffer in silence, than discuss their illness.

The rate of change is clearly taking a toll, and yet great leaders care for their people, and inspire them to go beyond what is expected.

Whilst many leaders acknowledge that healthy employees are productive employees, a large proportion are sceptical that integrated wellbeing programs can produce a compelling return on investment.

A PWC report commissioned by beyondblue, estimated that for every $1.00 invested in mental health programs, $2.30 will be returned to the bottom line. In the mining industry, that return was estimated to be as high as $15.00 for every $1.00 spent.

So, how do we create a culture that produces resilience and high performing tribes?

These 8 steps are recommended:

  1. Link to Purpose and Values

McKinsey research, in the book Beyond Performance , shows that 70% of change efforts fail to reach all their objectives, because leadership fails to adequately plan for employee mental wellbeing.

Mental wellbeing initiatives must be linked to organisational purpose and values and not viewed as something “extra”. The strategy should be communicated concisely, and with several supporting stories and examples.

  1. Leadership ownership

A Harvard global study of 19,000 employees showed that only 25% of employees believed that their leader lived a balanced and sustainable lifestyle. The one in four employees that believed this, were shown to be 52% more engaged, have 72% higher wellbeing, and had twice the trust in their leader . The best thing a leader can do to create a mental healthy work culture, is to lead a healthy life themselves, because their actions speak louder than words.

In another recent study by the American Psychological Association, 73 % of employees with senior managers who show support through involvement and commitment to well-being initiatives said their organization helps employees develop a healthy lifestyle, compared with just 11 % who work in an organization without that leadership support. Where their leader supported the wellbeing program, 91% were motivated to their best (versus 30% for non-supportive leaders), and 89% would recommend their company as a good place to work (versus 17%).

  1. Multiyear plan

Culture doesn’t change overnight, especially with the stigma associated with mental illness.  When you consider almost 9 out of 10 of those afflicted would rather suffer in silence than share their condition with work colleagues, a long term plan is essential. Organisations should be regularly assessing the impact of stress on employees, and how willing they are to share their struggles with their work colleagues. Some of Australia’s most successful organisations are including these questions in their annual engagement surveys.

  1. Identify Resilience Champions

There should not only be mental wellbeing champions at the executive level, but throughout the organisation. A Wesley Mission survey showed that 85% of Australians know someone close to them with depression or a stress disorder, and these employees with firsthand experience should be asked to be involved. Soliciting their input for the design and communication of programs will be central to success.

  1. Create a Variety of Programs and Resources

Leaders should know the early signs of distress, make help seeking easier, encourage mentally healthy work rituals, and improve their coaching skills.

There should be programs and resources that help employees to stay maintain a positive mood, and also to assist those that have slipped into distressed situations. Because of stigma of mental illness, it is essential that programs can be accessed anonymously.

  1. Target High Risk Employees

Many organisations have observed that mental stress and absenteeism is highest where engagement levels are lowest. Central to improving health outcomes is identifying the specific groups in which employees are disengaged, and customizing remedial plans accordingly. For example, call centres are often places of high turnover and absenteeism.

  1. Encourage an R U OK? Ethos

Tribes should engender a culture of self-compassion and compassion. Our first responsibility is to regularly ask ourselves “Am I OK?” and create daily rituals that strengthen us, and then to ask distressed colleagues “Are you OK?”, and encourage help seeking.

  1. Monitor Progress and Share Success Stories

What gets measured gets managed. Organisations should not only monitor absenteeism, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) usage and employee turnover, but also include formal and informal early warning systems to their employee dashboard to pre-empt problems. They should be very actively sharing the success stories that are producing better health and performance.



Elephant in the Boardroom - Cover

For further information about the causes and solutions to harmful stress in the workplace download The Elephant in the Boardroom: getting mentally fit for work.


Your organisation may be interested in experiencing the 7 Rituals of the Resilient Leader Workshop – Sign up for our free poster and course to learn how to create rituals that improve your resilience, mood, and performance.

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