Telstra Award winner uses platform to advocate for mental health awareness

Fiona Grimmer, (pictured left) Marketing Manager with HorizoneOne Recruitment used her acceptance speech at the 2019 Telstra Business Women’s Awards, to highlight the need for mental health support and awareness in the workplace.

Grimmer was named the winner of the 2019 Emerging Leaders Award for the ACT, announced at a gala event held at Canberra’s Hotel Realm on March 12.

Grimmer, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder six years ago, said mental health, while not a central focus of her application, was at the forefront of her mind when accepting the very prestigious award given the platform it provides to be heard.

“There are so many people out there like me out there who are suffering, yet also thriving while they are living with a mental health illness,” she said when accepting the award.

“Did you know that one in five Australians aged 16-5 experience a mental illness within their lifetime? Almost 50 per cent of those people with a mental illness do not access any treatment.

“I think that is in part not only because of the potential stigma that may come with being diagnosed but also because people don’t understand how absolutely normal it is to experience a mental health issue. It is normal.

“Mental health issues come in all different shapes and sizes. They affect everyone differently and they do not have to stop you from becoming a valuable and successful person.”

Speaking with The Brief, Grimmer who is “helping to successfully disrupt the recruitment industry in Canberra”, added she is pleased she made the decision to use her acceptance speech as a platform to talk about her experience and advocate for awareness about the issue.

“I have been completely overwhelmed by the support and encouragement following my win,” she said. “Mental illness is such a personal subject and one that effects people who you would never guess. I have been approached and thanked by some incredible people for speaking out.”

Grimmer was nominated for the Telstra Business Women’s Awards by HorizonOne’s founder and Director, Simon Cox, who she says, did not appreciate at the time that the application process was extremely time-consuming.

“It was a nice gesture that he thought of me when reading about the award criteria and that he thought it was a good chance for my work to be recognised,” she says of the nomination.

“A number of the application questions were very personal, so even though the awards are business related and looking at specific achievements, it’s also a lot about each applicant’s story.”

Grimmer insists it is important for the recruitment and staffing sectors to acknowledge and educate clients about mental health illness, how common it is and why it should not be a deterrent to employing candidates with mental health issues.

“I do understand why some employers may be reluctant to take on someone with a mental health illness,” she said. “Up until my Telstra win, 80 per cent of my colleagues didn’t know my story, “Before my own issues arose, I had no experience of mental health issues and I certainly didn’t have the education to understand the realities of someone living with a mental health illness. I likely thought that a lot of people just needed to toughen up and get on with it.

“And I think that is the problem. Education: I didn’t have it and neither do so many people. We need to educate employers on what a mental health issues really means. How it affects literally one in five Australians and how it doesn’t mean that person won’t be a valuable employee.”

That said, Grimmer also accepts that speaking openly about mental health issues is not going to be something everyone is comfortable with and which will even always be well received in the workplace.

“Everyone is on their own journey and the best thing you can do is to be kind,” she added. Grimmer said workplaces can assist and support those experiencing mental health issues by ensuring open conversation is encouraged and people feel safe to reveal themselves and problems they may be experiencing.

“I am not saying that everyone needs to go around shouting from the rooftops that they are depressed,” she continued. “Far from it. But people do need to feel supported enough to take the time they need, when they need it.

“I have been at H1 for just over five years now and there certainly have been some rocky moments for me. Moments where I was not able to work to my full ability or even at all. Moments where I couldn’t even leave the house.

“What has been a constant throughout is the support and understanding I have received. I tend to be a very upfront person. I had established myself as a valuable member of the team and started to build a good relationship with the Directors when I experienced my first really dark patch at H1.

“The relationship I had with them meant I felt more comfortable in being open and honest about my situation. This meant that I could focus on getting better and back to work rather than trying to hide what was happening.

“Over the years, and after a lot of my own self-reflection and work, I have developed a sort of early warning system to an upcoming episode. This means I can approach the boys and take a day to get myself back on track. If this wasn’t possible, I would likely not be able to divert an episode with self-care and end up in a much worse situation, needing significant time away from work.”

H1, aware of the need for good mental health, also offers staff an additional paid day off once a quarter which they call “human day” and, Grimmer explains, is “ideally used for self-care and to take a day to enjoy whatever that makes you feel happy and fulfilled”.

Other RCSA members to be named finalists for the awards were:

Hollie Broekman, an Executive Accountant with FourQuarters Recruitment who was a finalist for the Victoria 2019 Telstra Emerging Leader Award. “I genuinely believe that a diverse workforce is a more effective and interesting workforce,” Holly told award judges. “I am an advocate for diversity."

Sarah Lowe, Director of Recruiting Services, Defence Force Recruiting at ManpowerGroup was a finalist for the (NSW) 2019 Telstra Medium & Large Business Award. She told judges: “This role allows me to add value to society in a range of ways, including helping people contribute, find work, and feel better about themselves, all while serving Australia’s national interest”.

Suzie Celotti, Managing Director of Celotti Workforce was a finalist for the 2019 (NT) Telstra Medium & Large Business Award. “We individualise the recruiting process, ensuring the correct match is made every time,” she said in her application.

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