The business case for a mentally healthy workplace

06 October 2016

Research tells us that, due to its prevalence, mental illness is affecting your business right now, or has the capacity to do so. At any point in time, one in six working aged people is living with a mental illness.

Beyond that, it’s believed there are more people experiencing mental health challenges ranging from high stress to undiagnosed depression. If your organisation isn’t incorporating mental health considerations into your strategy, then you’re falling behind, both in terms of your workplace culture and the costs you’re adding to your business.

Let’s have a look at what being mentally healthy really means for your business.

You have a legal obligation to do so

Every business has a legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace. This includes both physical and mental health; occupational health and safety involves psychological injury prevention.

As your employees have no obligation to disclose their personal experiences with you, it’s impossible to target mental health efforts in the workplace to just those who are affected by mental illness. Instead, a broad approach is required to ensure that your workplace is one that supports and promotes your employees’ wellbeing.

Safe Work Australia explains that your goal is to not create or exacerbate any adverse mental health effects.

“Businesses can play an important and active role in maintaining the mental health and wellbeing of their workers. Well-designed workplaces and work processes consider the mental health of the workers and use design principles to prevent harm to a worker’s mental health.”

Your business will gain

Creating a mentally healthy workplace will provide measurable benefits to your business. These include:

  • Reducing absenteeism
  • Increasing employee engagement
  • Improving productivity to result in higher financial performance
  • Lowering workers’ compensation claim and insurance premium costs
  • Increasing motivation, as supportive workplaces inspire employee loyalty

These results are measurable through reviews of incident reports, workers’ compensation claims, patterns of absenteeism and sick leave, staff turnover and complaints. Other possible reviewing methods include gaining employee feedback and observing improvements in work performance and team interaction.

Safe Work Australia says mental illness is one of the leading causes of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia. It’s in these costs that you’ll likely notice a strong return on investment when you implement mental health initiatives into your business.

Recent research has shown that for every dollar spent on effective workplace mental health actions can generate $2.30 in benefits to the organisation. PwC, one of Australia’s leading professional services firms, did a report which outlined these benefits called, Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace.

It’s the right thing to do

Last, but definitely not least, creating a workplace that’s positive towards your employees’ mental health is simply the right thing to do. Understand that your employees aren’t infallible; that they will experience struggles during their time working with you. In addition, work can be helpful to those going through challenges if your working environment is positive.

“Good work can support and encourage participation for people with non-work related mental health conditions and can help to improve their mental health,” explains a Safe Work Australia spokesperson.

Where to start?

Many businesses find the concept of mental health challenging to deal with. There are two strong actions you can take towards breaking down the stigma and mystery surrounding mental health at work:

  • Conduct a risk assessment (similar to your physical risk assessment process) of your workplace, work systems and processes.
    “The assessment should specifically look for hazards and risks that can impact on mental health. For example, factors such as workload and levels of job control and autonomy should be examined,” says a spokesperson for Safe Work Australia.
  • Another good place to start is with a reputable workplace program that will help you implement positive, effective, evidence-based change.
    “Look at all the stressors in the workplace and start building an organisation that’s mitigating those stressors, and that means incorporating it into your risk management strategy,” says SuperFriend’s Strategic Collaborations Manager, Deborah Kennedy. SuperFriend’s programs can help to break down that uncertainty and implement strategies that will make your workplace not just mentally healthy, but more resilient.

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