The $10 billion problem we can’t ignore: effectively addressing mental health in the workplace

Australian organisations are starting to take the mental health of their employees as seriously as their physical health, and according to recent productivity research, it’s not a moment too soon.


PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) research has found that around 12 million productive work days are lost each year in Australia, due to mental illness-related absences or low motivation – highlighting an issue that is costing organisations more than $10 billion annually.

Compounding this issue is the fact that while full-time employees in Australia typically have access to eight to 10 days of paid sick leave per year, a poor employee culture surrounding sick leave is leaving organisations open to substantial productivity losses.

One of the key measures employers are being urged to consider in order to effectively address these concerns, is a clear policy and strategy for dealing with a range of mental health issues in the workplace.

This is something that the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is tackling head on, after reportedly being sued over an incident that occurred at an Adelaide construction site in 2013.

Earlier this year, Fair Work Building and Construction, which is the federal agency responsible for regulating the industry, claimed that the union entered a building site at the Royal Adelaide Hospital without authority in November 2013, to address members about a co-worker’s self-harm.

The CFMEU has since developed a training package for its members, in consultation with beyondblue, ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’. It includes a 90-minute session that educates union delegates on how to recognise the signs and symptoms of a mental health condition; discusses the relationship between the workplace and mental health; and offers solutions on what to do next if they are concerned about one of their members.

PwC reports that this type of proactive approach by Australian businesses could help them to receive an average return of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in effective workplace mental health strategies, in relation to the impact of an employees’ mental health on workplace productivity, participation and compensation claims.

Jeremy Thorpe, PwC partner, said investing in mental health training could see some businesses and industries benefit even more substantially.   “Small mining businesses that invest in effective mental health programs receive an average ROI of 15, meaning they get $15 out of every $1 they spend,” he said.   “Any positive ROI is something businesses should strive for. This is why I would urge all employers, regardless of what industry you’re in or your business size … to learn what economic benefits you can gain from investing in mental health.”

October is National Safe Work Month, an initiative of Safe Work Australia designed to help educate employers on the importance of appropriately dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

Recognising the importance of this issue, iHR Australia will be offering a public training course, Managing Mental Ill-Health in the Workplace, commencing in early 2016. In this program, iHR’s facilitator expert Senior Workplace Relations Advisor will guide participants through the key principles of effectively and sensitively managing mental health issues in the workplace, within the framework of fulfilling relevant legal responsibilities and practical management considerations. Attendees will also participate in group case study activities and learn through iHR’s unique Workplace Reality Theatre, where actors reenact relevant and engaging real-life scenarios for group discussions.

Register your interest in our forthcoming sessions here.


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