Who leads mental health: H&S or HR?
In the March/April edition of Safeguard magazine we pose three questions based on stories in the magazine. One of them is this:
To best serve worker mental health, and to underline the strategic nature of H&S, Dr Rebecca Michalak says H&S should take a leadership role in mental health and invite HR as a collaborator/follower.
What challenges and opportunities would arise from this approach?
Feel free to respond here on the Forum, or privately
via a Survey Monkey form.
An edited selection of responses will be published in the May/June edition, but with no names attached. One randomly selected person will receive a prize, namely a copy of Amy Edmondson's book
The Fearless Organization: creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation and growth
Our business decided that there are two parts to it:
1. Mental Wellbeing coordinated by HR: build resilience, know yourself to know others, etc. Several programs/training available that staff can schedule themselves or scheduled by their line managers.
2. Physical Wellbeing coordinated by H&S: are basic needs met- 5 ways to mental health, annual health monitoring, Wellbeing Calendar with different activities to participate in, celebrate safety awards, financial wellbeing, and providing information they can read on different topics e.g. men's health, etc.
Have a lovely long weekend and stay safe
Health (including mental) at a macro level = H&S (while understanding a person is at work 8 hours a day and therefore exposed to non-work mental health issues for the other 16 hours a day
Health at an individual level (especially mental health) = HR for all the privacy and other aspects (eg bullying / domestic violence).
I would suggest that a combined approach would be far better. It is often a subject that is poorly managed.
It often depends on the size of the organisation to resource for the commitment. Also depends on whether H&S reports into HR or Operations team. There has to be a joint effort from the two groups to ensure include everyone in the organisation. People need to be fit for work, and the work needs to be fit for people regardless of whether it is a physical or mental aspect.
My black and white (and very blunt) view is that the H&S team lead where harm may be caused by
activities, whereas health issues brought to the workplace should be led by HR.
There is of course a collaborative wellbeing strategy space where both streams meet.
The pitfalls include a business overestimating the skillset in either team in provide adequate care to individuals. There should be a clear line where issues are handed over to the experts.
This is an interesting question. It is not a matter of where wellbeing should be positioned i.e., HR or HS but what these respective functions focus on. It seems that when positioned in the HR function the focus is more individually based and often reactive - supporting individuals who may be struggling or building resiliency. When positioned in the HS function there is a stronger risk assessment approach with a focus on the work. So, the question is not where wellbeing should be positioned but are we addressing designing protective factors into the work and eliminating or minimising the risk to mental wellbeing and building the capability of people to thrive as well as supporting when they may be struggling. We need to stop framing wellbeing as resiliency self-care and have the courage to address aspects of the work that harm mental wellbeing.
I think this question comes down to whether you are being proactive or reactive.
In an ideal world there world be a symbiotic relationship between HR and HSE, after all, both focus on people.
On the proactive side of things, HR and Organisational development teams can lead well-being programs. HSE, Occ Health Nurses and even hygienists can be woven into a combined approach. However, the ability of these programmes to drive long term change in physical and mental well-being has been widely debated
Also, smaller organisations don't have the inhouse resources to develop and deploy this kind of programme. Workers are lucky of they have access to an employee assistance programme, workplace medicals and maybe a smoking cessation program and/or paid entry to a fun run.
In the reactive world both HR and HSE are all to often woefully under prepared to deal with burnout, bullying and memtal health issuses for both individuals and the team they work in.
Trying to treat peope with dignity, get them the support they need and support them when they return to work looks simple enough on paper. However, from my experience it's an emotional minefield in real life.
Identifying the complex web of causation and how the workplace contributed to the outcome, identifying how the workplace 'ecosystem' needs to change if it was causativre and ensure that those 'changes' stick is in my opinion a Herculanian task.
Also, if the event goes legal, it will all depend on whetther an employment lawyer chose to challenge the workplace circumstances under the ERA, HSAW or Hunan Rights Act. The retribution factor will enevitably determine which team is required to 'jump' into action after the damage has been done.
Happy to be proven wrong, or questioned on anything I've said.
The two places I worked at prior to my current position weren't interested in applying anything to do with mental health/wellbeing practices, but if anything along those lines did raise its head, it was either thrown at the H&S person (me) or fobbed off to the EAP.
Unless it was something like bullying or harassment, then (in the first prior job) this was taken over by HR (H&S person told politely - but firmly - "This has nothing to do with you"), which 9 time out of 10 resulted in the complainant usually leaving after being paid out and the accused usually got nothing more than a warning.
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