Login to MyACC
ACC Members

Not a Member?

The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is the world's largest organization serving the professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in the legal departments of corporations, associations, nonprofits and other private-sector organizations around the globe.

Join ACC

In-house In health

“Creating a psychologically safe workplace is something we all need to do because before lawyers, we are human”. This was the advice from Lucy Brogden AM, Chair of the Australian National Mental Health Commission and keynote speaker at this week’s Minds Count Annual Lecture, a foundation that works tirelessly to decrease work related psychological ill-health in the legal community, and to promote workplace psychological health and safety. 

The Productivity Commission estimates Australia’s annual economic cost of psychologically unsafe workplaces is between $13-$17 billion. While free lunchtime yoga classes and office fruit bowls may boost office morale, workplace mental health plans need to extend far deeper than this. Physically and mentally healthy employees are required for workplaces to thrive, and 2020 has been a year where organisational acknowledgement of this need has never been more important. 

In early January this year, the National Mental Health Commission developed a mental health strategy to help those impacted by the 2019-2020 summer bushfires. A major part of this plan was bringing people together to connect and share experiences, however by the end of January, the World Health Organisation declared a public health emergency and ever since 2020 has been known as the year of never ending change. 

COVID has fundamentally shifted the way we work, where we work and how our professional and personal lives integrate. The National Mental Health Commission’s COVID campaign hashtag changed from “#inthistogether” to “#gettingthroughthistogether” as the pandemic continues to run its course. To provide some insight of what the pandemic can do to a person’s wellbeing, Ms Brogden quoted Professor Nicholas Proctor, from the University of South Australia who said, “The virus uses invisibility to exploit naturally occurring pathways through which humans interact with each other”. This means it is more important than ever that our Australian workplaces are psychologically safe, and that they have the structure to do this remotely. “We need to focus on prevention and recovery because there is no health without mental health”, says Ms Brogden. 

Right across Australia, the quality of mental health literacy available within workplaces needs to improve. Organisations should be guiding employees towards resources that support them with mental health conversations. Investing in mental health first aid courses is just one example, “because this will provide people with the knowledge and confidence they need.”

The National Mental Health Commission has developed six key elements required to implement a psychologically safe workplace: 

  1. Build smarter work design – ensure you have the best role structure within each team. 

  2. Promote and facilitate early help seeking and early invention - to work out if your organisation already does this, think about your own team; have people felt safe enough to tell you things they are struggling with outside of work without fear of consequences?

  3. Build a positive and safe work culture – This key element is not about having a policy document on the intranet but rather if the regulator visited your workplace and asked staff what is it like to work there what would they say?

  4. Enhancing personal and organisational resilience 

  5. Supporting recovery 

  6. Increasing the awareness of mental illness and reducing stigma.

Ms Brogden recognises it is very hard to call out a ‘bad’ workplace when you are in the initial stages of a career, but she strongly believes those in their mid or high-level careers must do so. “It is our obligation… we all need to be part of the positive change and call out the poor practise when you see it.” 

As the closing speaker, Justice Jayne Jagot, Federal Court of Australia and Minds Count Board Member, provided a simple but strong reminder, “It’s as simple as this. Your workplace should not make you sick, either physically or mentally. And, working long hours, with unmanageable workloads should not exist”. 

The Association of Corporate Counsel (Australia) is a signatory to Minds Count Workplace Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines. If you would like to know more about Minds Count and your organisation becoming a signatory please click here

The Association of Corporate Counsel Australia congratulates the 2020 Minds Count Annual Award winners announced at the Annual Lecture, an awards program that recognises leadership and innovation in mental wellbeing in legal workplaces.

  • Best Mental Wellbeing Initiative in a Legal Workplace – “Minds your marbles” program, Morrissey Law + Advisory 
  • Individual Leader in Legal Mental Wellbeing for Individuals – Annette Kimmitt, Chief Executive Officer & Managing Partner, MinterEllison

ACC Australia’s In-House In health Committee (IHIHC) is responsible for advocating for workplace practices that lead to improved levels of health and wellness for all members of the in-house legal profession and identifying and developing resources and events which will drive those practices. If you would like to learn more about the committee and resources please click here