An innovative approach to create mentally healthy workplaces

  • WA Centre for Rural Health, Geraldton.

WA Centre for Rural Health, Geraldton.

Julie Loveny
WA Centre for Rural Health
Julie Loveny,
Project Lead,
Leading Thriving Workplaces

The Western Australian Centre for Rural Health (WACRH) of the University of Western Australia (WA) has been successful in gaining funding from the State Government Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) through the new Mentally Healthy Workplaces Grant Program.

The focus of the grant program is to create mentally healthy workplaces by supporting initiatives committed to recognising and enhancing the positive aspects of work that contribute to good mental health.

WACRH’s Leading Thriving Workplaces project has been developed to meet the aims of the Mentally Healthy Workplaces Grant Program, which are to prevent mental injury and mental health conditions at work by managing work-related psychosocial hazards and their associated risks; and promote positive practices at work that support mental health and wellbeing.

The Leading Thriving Workplaces initiative will enable WACRH to work closely with three health and human services organisations in the Midwest, to build and enhance psychological safety and positive workplace practices recognising that, when a workplace is mentally healthy, the benefits include:

  • enhanced employee engagement
  • the fostering of an inclusive workplace culture
  • innovation, creativity and sharing of ideas
  • improved employee wellbeing
  • increased loyalty and brand ambassadorship
  • reduced employee turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism
  • enhanced team performance.

WACRH is acutely aware of the ongoing challenges to recruit and retain staff in regional areas and the increased demands on health and human service employees.

Psychosocial risk factors, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, include: unreasonable workloads; difficult physical work environments; exposure to trauma; long hours and shift work; workplace conflict, bullying and harassment; poor leadership; lack of role clarity; low levels of support; poorly managed organisational change; job insecurity; and lack of professional development. These factors are causing high rates of staff turnover, absenteeism, fatigue, stress, burnout and mental health issues.

Over the course of three years, WACRH’s partner organisations will have opportunities to survey their staff, identify the risk factors, and implement activities and practices to enhance mental health and wellbeing. Training will be delivered to build employees’ knowledge and skills as leaders and as champions for psychologically safe workplaces. 

The project combines the evidence-based Thrive at Work framework and tools developed by the Future of Work Institute at Curtin University and Dare to Lead™ training based on the research of Dr Brené Brown (

The Thrive at Work integrative framework unpacks how organisations can support employees to get well (mitigate illness), stay well (prevent harm) and be the best they can be (promote thriving).

Dare to Lead™, delivered by a certified facilitator, imparts the knowledge and skills that contribute to a climate of psychological safety and the tools to operationalise values, build connection and trust, be empathic and curious, have tough conversations, set boundaries and overcome setbacks.

The Leading Thriving Workplaces project focuses on shared responsibility for mental health, as well as building individual, team and organisational capacity and resilience.

The learning from this project will help inform how health and human services can build positive workplace cultures that support mental health and attract and keep staff in the regions.

As Brené Brown says:‘We have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations and whole hearts are the expectation, and armour is not necessary or rewarded. We have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard and respected.’

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