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R U OK? Day sees pharma and medtech companies championing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

Health Industry Hub | September 8, 2021 |
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Human Resources: The need for organisations to invest in employee mental health and wellbeing has evolved significantly in the last 18 months. Leaders in the Australian pharma and medtech sectors have implemented strategies and innovative solutions to support wellbeing in this remote working environment.

R U OK? Day, on Thursday 9 September, encourages potentially life saving conversations about mental health by calling on Australians to meaningfully connect with their network by asking ‘Are you really OK?’ 

Amgen, Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson Medical and Eli Lilly leaders shared with Health Industry Hub their organisation’s ongoing commitment to employee mental health and wellbeing.

Belinda Hansen, Human Resources Director for Amgen Australia, a member company of Medicines Australia’s Pharma Australia Inclusion Group (PAIG), explained “Investing in employee mental health and wellbeing is no longer a nice to have. It is a strategic imperative. Amgen has a very people focused culture and our mission is to serve patients. In order to do that well, we need to be the best versions of ourselves, both personally and professionally. Mental and physical wellbeing is the key to unlocking our full potential. The more we talk about mental health, we remove the stigma and realise that this is not something that happens to just other people. This is something that touches everybody in some way, shape or form.”

Liz Carnabuci, Vice President & Managing Director, Medtronic Australia & New Zealand, commented “Over the last 18 months with lockdowns and remote working, mental health has become front of mind for many, and we’ve seen the stigma surrounding it slowly peel away. As a result, we’re also seeing, just like other businesses, that we are investing more in this space to keep staff engaged and motivated during a challenging time.

“For Medtronic, investing in employee mental health and wellbeing has always been important and we see it as part of the broader topic of employee wellbeing and fitness. Medtronic has three pillars of employee wellbeing – financial, physical and psychosocial (mental) wellbeing – and we design programs that support our teams this way. This framework allows us to ensure that all employees have access to the right suite of training, benefits and rewards to support them and their families.”

Jamie Preston, Senior HR Director for Eli Lilly, another PAIG member company, said “Supporting our employees’ wellbeing has always been a priority for Lilly. We have a comprehensive wellbeing program called ‘Live Your Best Life’ which caters to the five key domains of wellbeing- Healthy Workplace, Physical Wellness, Behavioural Health, Financial Literacy and Social Connectedness. Our employees have access to activities, resources and tools to not only support themselves but also their colleagues, family and the community.

“R U OK? Day is a reminder for all of us to reflect and check-in with ourselves and those around us. We all have different ways of doing this which is why Lilly has created a range of wellbeing activities and resources that employees can choose from. There’s something there for everyone.”

Ryan Hannelly, Head of HR for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices, stated “While life’s ups and downs happen to us all, given the current circumstances throughout Australia, Johnson & Johnson believes it’s more important than ever to recognise and encourage participation in R U OK? Day. After all, the health and wellness of our employees is our top priority.”

A new era of workplace health and wellbeing

The workplace ecosystem is changing and as a result, creative solutions, new approaches and innovative responses are the name of the game in supporting employee mental health and wellness in a virtual workplace.

Ms Carnabuci told Health Industry Hub that Medtronic is providing access to Ginger, an on-demand mental health support service uniquely available to all employees and their families. During lockdown, the company introduced livestream mindfulness training programs, and given the link between exercise and mental health, they also introduced a variety of physical wellbeing programs such as online gym classes and virtual workouts.

She added “Earlier in the year, Medtronic also rolled out ‘The Evolution Project’, a virtual program designed to improve performance, wellbeing and leadership. This was developed by a notable peak performance researcher and our employees gave us positive feedback about how this supported them when it came to mental resilience.”

Ms Preston said “I absolutely love Lilly’s Harmony Walks. It is a time where you get together remotely with randomly assigned colleagues to build new connections and friendships across the company and you get to know each other as a person while you’re outside going for a walk. It is helping create the right culture of trust and making people feel safe. We have had over 1,500 Harmony Walks since 2020 and even when we paused it for a short period, there was an outpouring of employees asking us to reinitiate the Harmony Walks.”

“Currently at Amgen we are focussing on connectivity because it is so important for mental wellbeing, something our people have told us they are really missing with the virtual working environment. When Victoria went through the second wave lockdowns last year, they were doing it really tough. Our general manager asked for people to put together a photo with a message for our Victorian employees with the hashtag #togetherapart. We created this collage with beautiful music and all the photos of all our people with thoughtful messages. There were many emotional messages back with how much the thought and effort had touched them, highlighting the critical need for connectivity during isolation,” explained Ms Hansen.

She added “With the Sydney lockdowns, a series of videos from the leadership team have been shared on how they are coping through this time. The communication is very raw and vulnerable to encourage employee conversations around how we are coping with our challenges and how we are managing our personal wellbeing and mental health.”

R U OK? Day

Business leaders and employees are being encouraged to build an R U OK? culture in their workplace which may lead to potentially life saving conversations about mental health.

Ms Hansen said “R U OK? Day is a big feature of Amgen’s wellness plan to encourage the open conversation about mental health. I recall the first year we got involved in this initiative, a senior executive came to me and said ‘I look at those R U OK? Day posters and I’m not OK’. Even if just one person is empowered to have that conversation, it is incredibly valuable.”

Mr Hannelly added “In the lead up to 9 September, we are encouraging all J&J employees to join the conversation on our internal Yammer and share ‘For me to be #AtMyBest, it’s OK to…’ We’ve had some great responses, such as ‘it’s OK to take a walking meeting’, ‘it’s OK to flex my day around home schooling’, or ‘it’s OK to schedule some time to recharge during the day.’ We believe this is an important conversation to acknowledge and normalise that everyone needs to take steps to take care of themselves. We look forward to sharing the responses, photos, and videos with our employees later in the week.

“On Thursday, J&J is running an optional workshop for all employees on Resilience in partnership with the Human Performance Institute. On Friday afternoon, we’re introducing some light-hearted fun and all employees have the option to participate in J&J Around the World, a virtual globe-trotting game hosted by Pinnacle Events. We have also made employees aware of events being provided by the Medical Technology Association of Australia (MTAA) on Mental Fitness and on how and when to ask R U OK?”

Evaluating the effectiveness of mental health and wellness programs

The most successful wellbeing programs are adaptable. A flexible framework provides room to grow and accommodates the changing internal and external ecosystem.

Ms Preston said “In addition to general feedback, at Lilly, we measure the success of initiatives around wellbeing, inclusion and engagement by conducting quarterly surveys where we look at a whole mixture of dimensions to inform us on what we are doing well and where we can improve.

“It means that we have clear actions that we can take each quarter rather than waiting for annual or biannual survey results to make changes for the next year. For example, one of the things that we have been focusing on for the last two quarters is around wellbeing and managing workload. This is not something that can wait until next year or next quarter. As a result, we implemented training for leaders to support them in managing their workload and assist them in supporting their team members.”

Ms Hansen added “Employee wellbeing has been a leadership discussion at Amgen for quite some time. We have measures from local and global company surveys around wellbeing. In the March results that occurred globally, our focus on wellbeing was ranked in the top three of our organisation’s strengths. It is really nice to work in an organisation where HR does not have to push this agenda. Everyone gets it and we are all in this together through our cross functional champions and team members.”

Solutions abound and there is no one-size-fits-all. Overall, the best mental health and wellbeing solutions are strategic, holistic and integrated into the fibre of the organisation. The best companies are keeping wellbeing central to their efforts and ensuring they are putting people first for the benefit of their employees and business.


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