Managing people

Addressing mental health in the workplace

Australian employers have an obligation to prevent and manage mental health issues effectively.

Given 45% of Australians experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime, this can seriously affect profitability, productivity and workplace culture. Like the majority of employers you probably genuinely care about mental health in the workplace but lack the knowledge, confidence and skills to help staff.

Can your business afford not to do something?

When it comes to mental health at work, your rights and obligations as an employer are to prevent, respond and manage workplace mental health issues effectively. Workers with these issues should never face discrimination and are entitled to the same support as people with physical injuries.

If you don’t address the issues, they can severely impact on other workers and the business overall.

Competing considerations, such as fulfilling work health and safety obligations, appearing not to show discrimination or taking adverse action, can be a challenge for you. Or you may simply not know how to help employees. 

The 2018 KPMG and Mental Health Australia report show that mental ill-health costs Australian businesses an average of $3,200 per employee with mental illness. This figure increases up to $5,600 for employees with severe mental illness. Overall, the cost of workplace mental ill-health was $10.9 billion.

How to support mental health at work

Creating a mentally healthy workplace is everyone’s responsibility, but employers need to take the lead.

Commitment, behaviour, and leadership style are critical. If you’re a small business owner or manager, you’re likely to have more frequent interaction with workers and be in a strong position to identify mental health issues.     

Be alert to the signs and symptoms of workplace mental health issues. These can include outbursts of anger, decreased productivity and arriving late to work. Initially, it will be a priority to notice a change and then it’s about early intervention to return the employee to their best. This could include providing a mental health day off work or providing employees with resources and support to help them manage mental health issues.

Develop a mental health action plan tailored to your workplace

According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, there are six critical success factors for creating a mentally healthy workplace:

  1. There must be a clear commitment from senior leaders and business owners.

  2. Employees must participate in training sessions for mental health.

  3. An organisation must have the appropriate policies and action plans, and implement them.

  4. There must be adequate resources to ensure the success of any mental health initiatives.

  5. Employers need to have a sustainable approach to follow the initial success.

  6. Any actions should be reviewed and evaluated to ensure improvement on an ongoing basis.

This can be done through initiatives to promote good workplace mental health. The workplace should implement practical and proactive action steps to promote ‘good mental health’. Furthermore, businesses can provide employees with learning awareness sessions to help them deal with mental health issues.

Finally, management should include mental health in the overarching operational and strategic planning of the business. This can be done by addressing topics of longer-term productivity, cultural change and sustainability.

Creating a safe and healthy workplace makes good business sense

If you are proactive in creating a safe and healthy workplace you’ll see improvements to the bottom line. PwC calculate that, on average, Australian businesses receive a return of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in effective workplace mental health strategies.

For some businesses, the return rate can be as much as $15. The report considers factors such as productivity, absenteeism and compensation claims in finding that the impact of employees’ mental health conditions cost Australian employers at least $10.9 billion a year.

Creating a safe and healthy workplace makes good business sense because it:

  • reduces costs associated with worker absence from work and high worker turnover

  • improves productivity, profitability and other workplace efficiencies

  • achieves greater staff loyalty, retention, and a higher return on training investment

  • minimises stress levels and improves morale and motivation

  • offers an effective way to attract and support competent and productive workers

  • avoids litigation and fines for breaches of health and safety laws

  • avoids the time and cost involved in discrimination claims

  • avoids industrial disputes

  • addresses the diverse needs of both society and your workplace 

  • recognises the contributions made by a diverse workforce, including workers with mental illness. 

And finally, creating a safe and healthy workplace makes good business sense because mental illness can affect anyone, everyone is entitled to work, and it’s the law.

Workplace has a Workplace Health and Safety General Policy that provides a framework for managing WHS risks. Download it today.

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