Positive Workplace Mental Health: Programs & Benefits

Have you ever sat down and pondered how much mental health could be costing your business?

If you haven’t, you may be interested to know that the direct financial impact of workplace mental health on Australian business is in the vicinity of $11 billion per year. This is largely due to absenteeism ($4.7 billion) and reduced productivity ($6.1 billion) from unwell workers still attempting to work.

These figures flow from new data revealing that Australians spent an estimated $8 billion on mental health related services in 2013-14. This suggests that mental health in Australia is more than just a social issue and it has been suggested that this should be at the top when considering which factors influence productivity and prosperity in the workplace. Workplace mental health issues and initiatives are something that employees are concious of and can factor into decision making when seeking or accepting employment with a business.

So what can employers do to aid in the mental health of their employees to reduce these losses? We take a look at workplace mental health.

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In Australia it is estimated that 45% of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year around 1 million Australian adults suffer depression and over 2 million suffer anxiety.

Some other facts that you may not be aware of:

  • 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 8 men, will experience depression at some stage in their lives;
  • 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 5 men, will experience anxiety;
  • Almost 1 in 10 women experience antenatal depression, and, 1 in 7 women experience postnatal depression;
  • At least 7 Australians take their own lives each day.

While employers are not able to control their employee’s personal lives and the stressors they encounter there, they are able to assist with work-related stress, which has been recognised as a major challenge to workers’ health, and the health of an organisation.

While stress itself is not a disease, if it becomes excessive and long lasting it can lead to physical and mental ill health.

Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment by ensuring their employees are not exposed to a risk to their health and safety. This duty also extends to protecting their employees from the risk of harm from stressors at work.

If they fail in this duty and an employee suffers a personal injury, including a psychological injury, then they may be liable in negligence. To keep employees safe, employers must identify hazards, assess risks, control risks, and review control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

So what are some of the risk factors for work-related stress?

The following risk factors have been identified as being associated with work-related stress and ill-health:

Work demands including:
  1. time pressure,
  2. high-level decision making,
  3. work that is dull,
  4. high emotional task demands,
  5. working long hours or overtime,
  6. shift rosters that effect sleep or family time;
Low level of control including:
  1. unnecessary levels of supervision and surveillance,
  2. excessive responsibility but little authority or decision making,
  3. little or no say in how work is done;
Poor support from supervisors and/or managers including whether workers feel:
  1. they are given constructive feedback,
  2. they can talk to their supervisor and peers about work problems,
  3. their supervisor helps fix work problems,
  4. their peers help out when things are tough; and
  5. whether it is possible to talk to, and form relationships with, work colleagues.
Lack of role clarity such as when a worker is required to perform a role that conflicts with their values or when they are torn between incompatible job demands.
Poorly managed relationships such as unresolved relationship issues with bosses, peers and subordinates.
Low levels of recognition and reward.
Poorly managed change such as alterations in individual work conditions including:
  1. a change of role or shift roster or the introduction of new technology, or
  2. a change in work-team or
  3. organisational level changes such as mergers, acquisitions, restructures or downsizing.
Organisational justice perceptions of fairness about work procedures and how they are implemented within the organisation.

Mental health in the workplace is certainly a live issue and one that employers need to be conscious of. An employer who fails to keep their employees safe from the foreseeable risk of a mental health injury may be liable in negligence.

In 2014 the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance teamed up with Beyond Blue to launch the ‘Heads Up’ national campaign for mentally healthy workplaces. Many employers have now signed up to the campaign, investing in workplace mental health initiatives and it is encouraged that all employers follow suit.

It would certainly be in the best interests of the employer to invest in workplace mental health, not only from a legal perspective but also from a financial perspective, as every $1 invested in improving mental health yields a $2.30 return.

Now that’s good business!

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