Mental health challenges can be as devastating as they are intangible. Historically they’ve also been shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding. Thankfully, the past decade has seen a significant shift in attitudes towards the issue of mental health in all corners of Australian society, and workplaces are no exception.
Workplace mental health is a significant issue with far-reaching ramifications. Increasingly, leading employers understand that managing mental health extends far beyond their legal obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). Experience across many industries shows that when they get it right, the benefits can be very real both for their employees and the bottom line.
What is the cost of mental health?
As early as 2015 a report published by Safe Work Australia found the average annual direct cost to workers’ compensation schemes associated with mental disorder claims was $481 million. That’s a pretty staggering 11% of total scheme payouts – and you can be almost certain the mental health costs to the Australian economy are even higher now in 2020. The report also highlighted some other alarming figures surrounding the prevalence and cost of workplace mental health:
Each year approximately 7,820 Australians receive workers’ compensation as a result of a work-related mental condition
6% of all workers’ compensation claims were for mental health disorders
14.8 weeks was the typical time off work
90% of claims were attributed to mental stress
39% of mental disorder claims were attributed to harassment, bullying or exposure to violence in the workplace.
Another key insight for business owners and senior managers was that certain groups of employees were at much higher risk. Workers in the middle to latter stages of their careers (women aged between 35-59 and men aged between 35-64) were found to be significantly more likely to be affected by work-related mental health conditions than their younger colleagues.
Good mental health. Good for business.
Far beyond your legal obligations to provide a safe working environment for your employees, of which there are many, there are also compelling business reasons to take positive action on mental health. According to Headsup.org.au – a joint initiative between the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and beyondblue – untreated mental health conditions cost Australian employers $10.9 billion every year through absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims. The effects can also extend to poor morale, low staff engagement and high staff turnover rates.
But it isn’t all bad news, especially for progressive business leaders. Headsup.org.au also calculates that Australian businesses receive an average return of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in mental health initiatives. In other words, a 230% ROI!
How can you create a ‘mentally healthier’ workplace?
There are a vast number of strategies available to managers and employers ranging from peer support initiatives to education programs for both employees and managers to foster a greater sense of day-to-day mental awareness. An excellent place to start is the BeyondBlue Heads Up website which offers a range of resources available for support in the workplace, which you can visit here.