University of Western Australia: Funding boost for Midwest and Pilbara workplace mental health program

The WA Centre for Rural Health (WACRH) of The University of Western Australia will use new funding from the Mentally Healthy Workplaces Grant Program to roll out a ‘Leading Thriving Workplaces’ initiative in the Midwest and the Pilbara.

WACRH is one of several recipients of the McGowan Government’s grants for projects that promote and support positive aspects of work and worker wellbeing.

Leading Thriving Workplaces was developed by UWA lecturer Julie Loveny, who’s been working with WACRH staff over the past year. Ms Loveny has more than 30 years’ experience as an educator, facilitator and social worker and considerable experience in mental health, leadership and organisational development.

Ms Loveny will lead the mentally healthy workplace project, working with two health and human services (HHS) organisations in Geraldton and one in the Pilbara for three years, with opportunities to share the learning and interventions with others in the fourth year.

“Research shows that health and human service workers are at significant risk of burnout and mental health issues and according to Safe Work Australia, also have very high mental health related workers’ compensation claims,” Ms Loveny said.

“In Western Australia, the demands on this workforce have increased with the community transmission of COVID and borders now being reopened.

“In working with HHS organisations across the Midwest and the Pilbara we’re also acutely aware of the ongoing challenges to recruit and retain capable staff, including leaders in regional areas where the workforce turnover can be high.”

WACRH director Professor Sandra Thompson said Ms Loveny delivered workshops to improve mental health in the workplace and the evidence-based Dare to Lead™ program would be a key part of the Leading Thriving Workplaces project.

“WACRH has a footprint in the Midwest and Pilbara and staff are keen to help promote leadership which supports workplaces to be safe places in which people thrive, work collaboratively and give of their best,” Professor Thompson said.

“Representatives of local organisations who’ve attended Dare to Lead™ training have been very enthusiastic about what they’ve learnt, keen to learn more and to apply it in their organisation and personal lives,” Ms Loveny said.

“We want to build on this and reinforce key messages to embed improved ways of working to ensure supportive workplace cultures.

“This grant provides a wonderful opportunity to work intensively with a small number of organisations over several years to improve workplace culture and we expect the intervention to reduce workforce turnover, reduce employees’ stress and improve morale.

“WACRH has worked closely with many HHS organisations and has the experience and knowledge necessary for the four-year project.”

Professor Thompson said the learnings from the initiative would help inform how health and human services could build positive work practices and cultures and best support, attract and retain staff in the regions.

“It’s a great outcome for our regions, linking very nicely with efforts around the Community Respect and Equality initiative in Geraldton and Safe and Respectful Pilbara,” Professor Thompson said.