By Sam Robinson
During one of our recent Leadership Forums (Meeting the Challenge of Amalgamation in Sydney, February 2016) a presenter speaking about mental health asked the audience: ‘What springs to mind when I say mental health?’
The responses came thick and fast: depression, anxiety, illness, absenteeism.
‘That’s interesting,’ came the response from the presenter. ‘I said “mental health,” not “mental illness”.’
Should this be surprising? Many of us tend to think of mental health as something negative: the source of bad things, a dark unseen force, hidden and menacing. But, of course, like our physical health, mental health isn’t necessarily positive or negative. It is something that can be assessed, nurtured and improved. There are factors that we can predict will contribute to poor mental health. These factors may be psychological, biological, or environmental. Some might be subject to our control and some might not, including factors that are in the hands of other people.
These external factors are a continuing source of fascination for me and now must be on the agendas of all those people embarking on large organisational change. We spend vast amounts of time and energy actually at work, and of course we typically expend gigantic amounts of energy thinking about work when not actually ‘doing’ work. Work matters. So does our mental health. Where is the connection?
In New South Wales, local government affected by structural change is in an excruciating waiting period. This in itself already has an implication for mental health that will become apparent below. Leaving current uncertainty aside (When will the proclamation be made? What governance structure will be needed to manage the transition? What impact will this have on Council elections, currently slated for September?), decisions will soon be made about the fate of all NSW Councils involved in the reform process.
Our advice to people within local government who can influence working conditions in amalgamating Councils (typically, but not only, managers, executives, and the General Manager) is to make predictions about the impact of the changes on people’s experience of work. We discuss the implications for organisational culture in Part 1 of the Amalgamation Good Practice Guide.
In relation to mental health, we recommend Maudsley International’s Mental Well-being Impact Assessment (MWIA) – an excellent tool for assessing the impact of mental health of changes at work. Backed by a strong research basis, the MWIA discusses four protective factors for mental well-being:
- Enhancing control
- Increasing resilience and community assets
- Facilitating participation
- Promoting inclusion
Based on a thorough assessment of the impact on mental health of upcoming changes, these four factors need attention in creating the best conditions possible for mental health in the context of amalgamation.
Amalgamation success stories will come from organisations that recognise the importance of not only the technical aspects of an amalgamation, and not just the commercial drivers, but also the social and human dimensions – and how all three areas interact with each other. A coherent, integrated approach to the changes, applying the MWIA to make predictions about their impact on people’s mental health, will help create the conditions for a positive and productive organisation that will emerge from the current uncertainty.
LKS Quaero will be holding “Mental Well-being and Amalgamation – What is the Impact?,” its fourth public Leadership Forum, in Sydney on Monday 13 June. This Forum will demonstrate how to assess the mental health impact of structural change in the local government sector. Please contact Sam Robinson (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more details.
LKS Quaero offers an integrated suite of individual, team, and organisation support for transitioning to a new entity:
- Financial Advice and Analysis: assessing and benchmarking financial systems, quantifying future merger scenarios
- Leadership Development and Culture: analysing and re-aligning organisational culture as well as developing your current and future leaders
- Coaching for Transition: individual leadership coaching programs for leaders involved in organisational transition activity
- Off to the Best Start: Making the Merge Work: 2-day Masterclass program supporting transition teams to develop a new organisation