The GESTALT of Workplace Mental Health


Jackie Knight

The focus today is on Workplace Mental Health awareness and a standpoint on how this ought to be approached by organisations.

At a societal level, at an organisational level, at a family level and at an individual level, we are dealing with systems. A systemic perspective allows us to see the interconnectedness of various components.

When it comes to employee mental health, multiple aspects of the whole system are likely to be relevant. Most of the time trying to work out what is going on with people is not clear cut.

For example:

  • When someone is demonstrating complex / difficult behaviour at work, how do we establish whether this relates to a clinically diagnosable psychiatric disorder or a reasonable human response to stressors in the workplace or at home?

  • When someone becomes fixated and unproductive in the face of an organisational restructure, how do we manage this situation? How do we know that it has actually triggered a response from an earlier trauma? Is this something we should deal with? How do we know whether other staff members are affected and to what degree? How do we find out if they are receiving an appropriate level of communication and support?

  • When a toxic work environment or boss is present, how do we navigate the territory for a person who experiencing anxiety symptoms and whose performance is deteriorating. How do we establish if this being approached by a manager as a poor performance issue and whether this is an appropriate course of action, or a form of passive bullying?

  • When someone is becoming defensive and inconsistent regarding feedback at work, how do we know whether this relates to their pre-existing mental health profile, current job fit or perceived inequity regarding remuneration? Which aspects of this do we regard as our responsibility to investigate or support?

  • When a solid performer looks to be functioning highly, yet is silently dealing with escalating internal distress related to their success and how it is experienced by their family of origin, how does this play out in the workplace and what is the cost?

  • What happens to the Executive who really needs to talk to someone, yet would never access Employee Assistance services or Coaching due to pride, shame,  fear or other reasons?

  • How do we reconcile a duty of care to employees with business performance, behaviour and role requirements?

Workplace Mental Health & Wellbeing needs to be held by a collective INSIDE the organisation.

Given that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the parts are interconnected, someone must hold the centre. In large organisations in particular, this holistic context can be seen from the Human Resources / Occupational Health, Safety & Wellbeing continuum.

If anyone holds the keys to the kingdom of solutions, it is those positioned at a central vantage point.

External consultants can bring specific and critical expertise, guidance and support to the table, but they cannot see the whole. Workplace cultures including mental health and wellbeing involve complex problems which are often non-linear in nature. They now require a different approach, a diverse and inclusive stance and a holding from the centre for a new paradigm to emerge.

In your organisation, who has the holistic view of the system? Who has the capacity to hold the centre and observe the various scenarios and interventions taking place in order to influence good decisions ?

Organisational investment in this domain is paramount. Ongoing collaboration and dialogue will support new thinking to lead the way forward.