User-friendly Work Well Guide launched for the Arts

The Arts Wellbeing Collective has released a ground-breaking guide to improving mental health in the performing arts.
woman talking on panel about mental health in Arts

The Australian organisation, Arts Wellbeing Collective has prepared a free, downloadable Work Well Guide (launched 2 December) as a response to recent research into the mental health of practitioners in the sector.

A study commissioned by Support Act (Elmes & Knox, 2022) found, ‘psychological distress, suicidality and mental health conditions continue to be significantly more prevalent among performing arts workers than the general population’.

This built upon data collected by Entertainment Assist and Victoria University that found 44% of entertainment industry workers experienced symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety, while 15% experienced symptoms of moderate to severe depression (2017).

These outcomes were a catalyst for the new Work Well Guide, a ground-breaking resource that provides not only performing arts organisations, but also collaborators, with ‘practical strategies and evidence-based tools and techniques for creating mentally healthy workplaces’. 

Creative producer, curator and arts facilitator Erica McCalman, a member of the Collective’s Lived Experience Advisory Group, says the Guide, ‘recognised that mental health is the responsibility of everyone and provided real steps toward systemic change on organisational and individual levels’.

McCalman adds the Guide is ‘truly comprehensive’ and ‘honest’.

‘It is a welcome addition to the rehearsal studio, boardroom or production office, and I invite anyone whose life and work is about creating great art to have a read and incorporate the Guide’s recommendations into their practice,’ she says.

Defining a healthy workplace

The Work Well Guide uses the definition of a healthy workplace generated by Guarding Minds at Work in Canada, which describes ‘a place where people can work smart, contribute their best effort, be recognised for their work and go home with energy leftover’.

The Guide continues: ‘Your workplace might be backstage, onstage, offstage, a tour bus, a shed or anything in between – but it’s still a workplace! All workplaces can benefit from taking meaningful actions to be physically, culturally and psychologically safe.’

Creating a mentally healthy workplace is vital to the success of your work and to the health and wellbeing of the people around you.

Well Work Guide.

The Work Well Guide informs the approach, the case for change, the role of leadership and strategic actions to creating a mentally healthy workplace. It includes sections on:

  • how to approach change in the workplace
  • why mental health is important at work
  • the role of leadership in the wellness journey
  • a definition of mentally healthy workplaces, with a walkthrough of a simple risk assessment checklist, and
  • how users can rate their current workplace’s performance, with suggestions for change.

The risk assessment checklist is excellent and easy to follow for an organisation of any scale with actions for change centred on the key areas of support, connection, leadership, enablement, engagement, courage, protection and safety.

The ‘Work Well Guide’ offers easy-to-follow pathways to understanding mental health in users’ workplaces. Courtesy: Publisher of ‘Work Well Guide’, Arts Wellbeing Collective.

The tone of the Guide is inclusive. It states: ‘Regardless of what role you play or what title you have, never underestimate your power to effect positive change, or the impact of your words, actions and decisions on others. Because people don’t do what you say, people do what you do.’

It encourages regular reflection by a company or organisation, especially at a leadership level.

‘Whatever leadership looks like in your context, take the time to explore ways to engage and unite leaders on the importance of positive, preventative actions to support mental health and well-being. This may involve speaking with board members, producers, creative leaders, and even investors and funders.’

The Guide adds: ‘If you are finding resistance to taking a preventative approach to supporting mental health and well-being, try to get curious about what may be causing these barriers.’

For many organisations, the conversation of wellness is still new territory. The Work Well Guide ushers the sector into this space with a collective ethos.

It concludes: ‘It can feel overwhelming to begin and maintain this journey. That’s OK. Never underestimate the power of small, cumulative changes. Promoting positive mental health and well-being in the performing arts is not one big thing; it’s the result of many small, purposeful actions, which move us closer to the culture we wish to see and change our industry for the better over time.’

The Work Well Guide will additionally form the foundation for a workplace training unit ‘Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces’, which will be launched in 2023.

The guide is free to download from the Arts Wellbeing Collective website.

The project has been largely funded by WorkSafe Victoria WorkWell funding. The Arts Wellbeing Collective was founded by Arts Centre Melbourne in 2017.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina