A Heads Up to the Ad Industry

Michael Godwin
By Michael Godwin | 18 July 2014
Michael Godwin, managing director, JWT Melbourne.

It’s interesting how in our industry we’re forever hearing phrases like ‘we’re only as good as our people’ or how we’re a ‘people business’, yet when it comes to really looking after the wellbeing of those people, we’re woefully inadequate.

Most agency heads have long recognized the importance of creating a positive workplace culture; an environment in which people enjoy spending time, feel supported, nurtured and empowered to be their best. And while encouragingly, more agencies are investing in Wellbeing Officers or HR Managers, I suspect very few are qualified to deal with a rising issue that is effecting their staff and costing their organisations significant amounts of money every year – mental health.

It’s vital that leaders in our industry make the creation of mentally healthy workplaces a priority. We work our people hard; a byproduct of our shrinking margins is that the expectations we place on our staff are higher than ever before. We’re a young person’s industry and depression and anxiety tend to be more prevalent amongst this demographic. Despite our industry’s high vulnerability to the personal and financial costs associated with mental health, I’d argue our qualifications to effectively deal with the issue are inadequate.

I believe most leaders in our industry do genuinely care about the wellbeing of their staff, including their mental wellbeing. However, despite this, we’ve been too quick to ‘brush under the carpet’ important health issues like employee depression and anxiety. I recall long not too long ago at a previous agency, the stigma associated with a staff member who had to take a few months off to deal with a mental health issue. It was unfair, harmful and founded on ignorance. If this individual had suffered from a physical illness, she’d not have been subjected to any of the undercurrent of cynicism and lack of support that was so prevalent at the time. Equally I recall a few years ago a number of a particular staff member’s team coming to me expressing concern about the mental wellbeing of their colleague, yet none of us knew what to do and despite our best intentions and genuine concern, looking back, we didn’t manage the situation at all well.

Thankfully, due to the admirable efforts of a handful of organisations and some high profile individuals like former Australian of the year, Patrick McGorry, the issue of mental health is attracting more attention than ever before and we appear to be moving towards a period of positive change. This needs to translate into Australian workplaces, including those across our own industry.

Over the past six months, JWT has supported beyondblue, helping bring to market Heads Up, an initiative designed to encourage and assist business leaders across Australia to foster a more mentally healthy workplace. Heads Up can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/user/HeadsUpAus

This program will help make it easier for companies to develop the policies and practices that will see positive results for their people and for their business performance. Research conducted by PwC has shown untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces $10.9 billion each year, so the benefits of addressing this issue far exceed the positive impact on staff alone.

Margaret Zabel, CEO of the Communications Council recognizes the importance of this issue and the potential of Heads Up to help qualify industry leaders to address it. As she says: “Mental health and wellbeing is an important issue in any industry and critical to creating strong, productive and sustainable workplaces. Initiatives like Heads Up are an effective way to support our leaders in implementing professional and supportive practices to maintain a healthy and motivated team. We encourage the marketing communications industry to champion this initiative to create powerful, positive change.”

It’s very easy for businesses like ours to benefit from the Heads Up program. The first step is to visit www.headsup.org.au to register and then to complete a simple action plan that can be tailored to an organisation’s particular needs. From there, every organization will have access to all the tools and support they require to foster positive mental health across all employees.

As the head of a large local advertising agency, I’ll be taking this step. And I’d like to join Margaret Zabel in the call for other agencies in our industry to do the same. As leaders, this is the right thing to do for the success of our organizations. It will reduce costs. Increase efficiency. Engage and educate our employees. But most importantly, it’s the right thing to do for our people. Just a Heads Up.

Michael Godwin
Managing director
JWT Melbourne

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