How Can We Grow a Mentally Healthy Workplace?

positive impact of work

Keeping your staff mentally healthy is a challenge in our fast-paced world. Work-related stress represents a ‘huge cost’ for worker health and productivity with stress-related illnesses such as depression and cardiovascular disease now the leading causes of the global disease burden. For this article, we take a look at several research pieces and link them together to discuss the problem of stress at work, and strategies that business can use to provide mentally healthy workplaces.

The numbers

There are several overarching reasons why employees are more stressed at work.

First, the increased competition as a result of globalisation is creating continual organisational change. Employees face downsizing, job insecurity, work intensification, longer working hours and reduced resources. Increasing demands and reduced resources have been highlighted as a factor in the rise of bullying and harassment.

Second, work-life balance is eroded because of new technologies. Today, the distinction between work and family is blurred, there is less recovery time, and leisure time is interrupted.

Third, there are more older workers and migrant workers being employed that may face additional work health and safety risks.

Fourth, young workers have the lowest levels of resilience and highest rates of declining mental health.

In a recent survey conducted by LinkedIn Learning of almost 3,000 workers nearly half said they felt stressed at work. The graph shows the top 5 drivers of workplace stress as identified by the participants.

mentally healthy
LinkedIn Learning Survey Results

In the Australian Workplace Barometer Report, it was identified that:

“Workers aged between 25 – 34 show the poorest psychological health, likely due to factors such as competing work and family demands as well as entering the workforce following study, working hard and using long hours to advance in their careers, and they experience low levels of skill discretion.”

As people move up in the organisation, so does the stress level, with those at the top and in middle management more likely to be stressed.

Workplace bullying and harassment affect 20% of employees. Females are more likely to experience significantly more unwanted sexual advances, humiliation, and unfair treatment due to gender than men. Males are more likely to experience significantly higher rates of physical violence and being yelled at or sworn at, than women.

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Safe Work Australia Infographic

PWC estimates the costs to business of overstressed employees from being absent from work or under-performing at work, is $12B annually.  The costs of mental ill-health are determined only from the extra sick days taken by people with mental ill-health (absenteeism), the reduced productivity people have when working whilst unwell (presenteeism) and Workers’ Compensation Claims. The National Mental Health Commission reported that employees with job‑related stress and mental illness were absent from work for an average of almost 11 weeks a year in Australia.

CHERE reports in their 2017 discussion paper Mentally Healthy Workplaces in NSW, that nearly one in six Australian employees, experience a significant level of mental ill-health in a four week period (males 13.2%, females 16.1%).  Safe Work Australia notes that mental illness accounted for 6% of all workers’ compensation claims in 2014‑15. Although the number is small, these employees had more time off work – 15.3 weeks off work compared to 5.5 weeks for all claims. Mental health claims also saw higher average claim costs – $24,500 per claim compared to $9,000 for all other claims. In 2014-15, the number of serious claims linked to mental illness was similar to that recorded in 2000-01. However, over this same period, claims linked to most other causes of injury had fallen significantly. In short, mental illness is on the rise.

Strategies to reduce stress and stay mentally healthy

The Australian Productivity Commission released an Issues Paper earlier this year The Social and Economics Benefits of Improving Mental Health.  In the paper, there is a small section on mentally healthy workplaces that provides actions that could be taken to improve mental health. The Commission recommends that business provide:

  • Anti-bullying policies
  • Manager and leadership training
  • Resilience training
  • Stress management
  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • Support and training for employees returning to work from a mental illness
  • Employees with increased job control
  • Training and awareness programs for all employees to reduce stigma and support work colleagues.

However, the Commission has noted that there is a slow uptake by business to grow a mentally healthy workplace. The Commission is seeking to understand why employers are failing to invest more in workplace mental health, given the high costs when employees are absent or under-perform due to mental stress. They are currently seeking feedback, but highlight that there may be:

  • barriers to implementing measures to improve workplace mental health, and their cost
  • factors which create uncertainty about the returns to a given employer
  • limited extent to which measures which have been beneficial for a small sample of businesses, or a particular type of organisation, can be applied more widely, and
  • limited regulation requirements with enforcement to protect employee wellbeing.

Return on investment

In 2018, KPMG and Mental Health Australia in the Investing to Save report called for a trial to make workers’ compensation insurance premiums more reflective of the mental-health risk profile of workplaces. Unfortunately, Australia has very limited data for measuring psycho-social risk factors and working conditions. Currently, Australia relies on counting sick days, measuring lost productivity and workers compensation claims to measure psychological injury. This data is a lag indicator, is not available for 1-2 years and does not provide an understanding of the factors that lead to a mental injury claim. In addition, this data does not capture workers suffering psychological issues as a result of their work who do not lodge a workers’ compensation claim. The lack of accurate, real-time data makes it difficult to predict critical areas and fails to support business in their efforts to create mentally healthy workplaces.

The Mentally Healthy Workplaces in NSW discussion paper provides an example of the return on investment for businesses growing a mentally healthy workforce. The report uses a hypothetical example of a business that employs 200 staff. This business would on average incur costs of over $270,000 in mental health-related absenteeism and presenteeism each year, and face a workers’ compensation claim every five years. If this business spent $9,600 on workplace mental health promotion they would save $40,000 each year. For SMEs, the return is $2.86 benefit for every dollar invested, while for large employers, the return on investment increases to $4.01.

How can Tap into Safety help?

The Tap into Safety Mental Health Solution helps organisations to identify staff groups with mental health issues early on. It helps employees to identify heightened levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Mental health literacy is increased through refresher training on workplace stressors that impact mental health. Practical coping strategies are offered. The solution provides an alternative method of a non-confrontational way to encourage help seeking. Encouraging help seeking in the workplace is vital. It leads to early intervention and quicker recovery.

We believe that organisations are looking for effective ways to support employee mental health in a tight budgetary climate. To assist employers to grow a mentally healthy workplace, Tap Into Safety has a new per-use ‘credits’ pricing model which provides access to mental health training and employee support, with no lock-in contract or annual license.

Tackling mental health decline to grow a mentally healthy workplace is not solved in a one size fits all approach. Organisations need to offer a variety of solutions and activities to encourage people who need help, to reach out and do so as early as possible. If you would like to know more about our Mental Health Solution contact us and try a FREE online demo today.

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