Informal leaders: A path to better workplace mental health

When we think of business leaders, names such as Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson, Larry Page or Gail Kelly may come to mind. These well-known leaders fulfill their role on a public stage and are known to many.

Leadership is not just reserved for high profile roles, nor for those who carry a title such a Founder, CEO or Vice President. Leadership sits in all facets of an organisation, and in order to create better workplace mental health we need to garner the ability of employees who are able to inspire their colleagues by engaging their hearts and minds. 

Some organisations appoint an Executive level “mental health champion”, who has the ability to make a strong case and is passionate about contributing to, and raising the profile of, health and wellbeing in the workplace. This is an important start. 

However, a top down approach doesn’t mean that only one person at the top shows leadership. We need to have the courage and flexibility to change how we have always done things when the research is telling us that it is best for our employee and organisational wellbeing. 

Formal leaders need to be willing to engage in mental health conversations across their organisations to allow informal leaders to contribute to a robust, mentally healthy workplace. 

Informal mental health leaders in the workplace are employees who are able to inspire others, by engaging their hearts and minds, to get on board with creating mentally healthy workplaces. Our informal leaders can be highly influential and are able to have great positive influence in our workplaces. 

We can identify our workplace mental health leaders by: 

  1. Asking employees at all levels in the organisation if they would be interested to become involved in mental health initiatives.  This can be done via survey or at team meetings.
  2. Ask workplace teams to elect a mental health representative (this may or may not be the existing OH&S representative) to keep them up to date on organisational supports, keep mental health on meeting agendas and at the forefront of co-workers minds.
  3. Recognising staff who have a genuine interest in workplace mental health and who naturally engage the hearts and minds of their colleagues.
  4. Engaging in cross-functional discussions in both formal and informal settings. 

Our workplaces need to seek out and acknowledge their informal workplace mental health leaders so that better mental health at work becomes everybody’s business and there are better outcomes for all.