A new podcast is showcasing expert opinions in workplace mental wellbeing and examining leadership during this challenging period we find ourselves in.
The Victorian Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration has launched a new podcast called ‘Leadership Through Change’. Featuring CEOs, executives and senior decision makers, the podcast aims to provide inspiration and practical tools to help improve mental wellbeing in the workplace, whatever that workplace may currently look like.
The first episode of the podcast is with Arts Centre Melbourne CEO Claire Spencer AM, talking about the challenges she and the Arts Centre have faced through the pandemic, and how they have adapted their approach to supporting staff mental wellbeing as a result.
How the pandemic has affected live performances, and what the industry is doing to help its people
The live performance industry has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many venues remain unable to operate at the time of writing due to limits on indoor gatherings, which means people within the industry remain unable to work as they normally would.
In what has been a very trying time, Claire said the wellbeing of people has been a priority.
“A big focus for us is how to we keep our people well in every sense of the word. It’s not been easy for many of them, they haven’t had paid work with us since March, so it’s been a really challenging situation,” she said.
That’s where The Arts Wellbeing Collective, formed in 2016 on the back of research on mental health in the live performance industry, is playing an important role in providing mental wellbeing resources.
“We came up with this idea which wasn’t just responsive to people who may be experiencing mental health issues, but more about mental wellness. What changes could we affect in individuals, in their work environments and indeed across the sector that might improve mental health outcomes,” Claire explained.
“We started that actively in 2017, we thought we’d get 10-15 organisations join us. Now we’re well over 300 and the reach of the collective is international.”
The Arts Wellbeing Collective contains an array of online resources, free to access for organisations and individuals.
“There’s also a lot of resources we’ve developed over time which people can digest at their own pace. There’s something for everyone,” Claire said.
How is Arts Centre Melbourne looking after its staff through the pandemic?
For Claire and her executive team, the focus has been keeping their people engaged throughout the pandemic.
“What we’ve tried to do is keep people connected through written communication, we do an all-team broadcast every week where I talk a little bit about what’s going on, then we’ll have an external guest and we’ll also profile someone internally who’s working on our response and recovery plan,” she said.
“We try and give people a view as to what’s going on internally, so they have confidence that Arts Centre Melbourne is still very much alive and well. It looks different, we’re working differently but we’ve still got purpose and we’ve still got relevance to the community.
“It’s about giving people the opportunity to see something about the Arts Centre they may not have realised before. We're so busy when we’re open, we’re pumping shows through our venues most nights, so it’s a hard place to stop and showcase what different parts of the organisation do, so it’s been an important time to do that.”
Leading through the pandemic
Claire says that she has taken time during the pandemic to assess her leadership and also how she structures her work life.
“My leadership will certainly be changed by this forever and I think many of my immediate team are feeling the same,” Claire said.
“I’ve got into the habit of taking off one day per fortnight. My objective is to come out of this period with the same leave balance as what I went into it with.
“My executive team has done the same and we’re all very public about when we’re not going to be [at work]. One of my team will ‘act’ as the CEO on the day that I’m not there and I think it’s encouraging others to [take time off].
“The other little thing I’ve done as part of my immediate team is before we start every weekly check in, we pick two words each to describe how we’re feeling. It’s such a simple thing but it’s so profound because you get an instant snapshot of where everyone is, who in the team is struggling, who might need extra support and care that week.”
Claire explained it’s crucial for leaders in businesses and organisations to own their actions, particularly when it comes to mental health, to lead the way for others.
“Don’t let it be just a token thing just because HR or your board have told you that you need to. Really own it and share your experience, be prepared to be vulnerable, tell people when you’ve had a bad week, why and what you’re going to do about it,” she said.
“My experience at the Arts Centre is I’m never judged for that. I feel that people don’t look at me as if I’m weak. I think there’s an acknowledgement that we are all in this together and whatever your role is, it’s tough.”
Tips for leaders to help act on mental wellbeing in the workplace
Utilise external resources which might be available. These may be specific to industry such as The Arts Wellbeing Collective, or they can be more general resources to help with mental wellbeing in the workplace such as the Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration’s resources at leadingwellvic.org.au.
Consider the communications between organisation leaders and staff during this time. Think about when, how and what is communicated to ensure everyone is kept informed about what’s happening.
Own positive behaviours which can encourage others to engage in the same or similar behaviours. Things like taking the time away from work to exercise, or taking a scheduled day off to refresh, can allow other staff to feel they can do the same.
Along with the first episode of the series with Claire Spencer AM, the second episode has just been released which features Nick Moraitis, CEO of Foundation for Young Australians. You can listen to the ‘Leading Through Change’ podcast via:
The Victorian Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration was formed by VicHealth, SuperFriend and WorkSafe Victoria to promote positive mental wellbeing in Victorian workplaces.