With almost half of all Australians experiencing mental health concerns during their peak working life, it has never been more important for organisations to know how to support their employees. A recently released report commissioned by beyondblue (the report), explains that, health implications for employees aside, untreated mental health conditions are costing Australian organisations around $10.9 billion per year through absenteeism, presenteeism (when the employee is at work but is less productive) and compensation. This is alarming enough without mentioning that there are more deaths caused by workplace-related suicides per year than there are on our roads nationally.
In Australia, one of the biggest barriers we face as employees, managers and executives is the stigma attached to mental health. The report show that almost a fifth of Australians don’t believe that depression and anxiety are medical conditions, and around that same number think that those suffering these conditions should ‘snap out of it’. Unlike a physical condition where an employee is likely to disclose their medical history, half of Australian workers wouldn’t tell their colleagues that they have had time off due to their mental health, nor would they offer this information when going for a promotion or new job, believing it will be a strike against their name.
So where do we start in the fight to change this perception of mental health? Organisations aren’t only legally obliged to provide safe workplaces with equal employment opportunities, but also have an ethical requirement to ensure that their workplaces are safe and equitable. This starts with the fundamental requirement for policies that spell out the organisation’s position on mental health and the support structures they have in place for those experiencing mental health symptoms. The message and respect for mental health needs to come from the top, as this is where employees look for direction.
The report commissioned by beyondblue shows that a visible respect for mental health amongst the leaders of an organisation is the main thing that influences a mentally healthy workplace. Having a workplace that is physically safe, working regular hours and being part of a small to medium-sized organisation also rank highly. Not all of these are going to be achievable as businesses grow, however it does show that the things that make a difference are basic – it isn’t all about massages and naps during the workday.
Mental health related illness is costing organisations billions of dollars because employees don’t feel comfortable to speak up. In fact, one in 20 Australians have reported that they would resign from their positions before talking about their condition. As an HR professional, you will know that to replace even one employee has a significant impact on productivity, workplace culture and the bottom line. If these costs were preventable through simple measures, wouldn’t you want to make the required changes?
If you haven’t already, you need to consider mental health as part of your organisation’s work health and safety strategy along with what this means in terms of equal employment opportunity. Mental health is currently a hot topic and will continue to grow in relevance as our attitudes shift. While this happens it is important that you get your business up to speed and start implementing policies and creating a culture that allows for your employees to seek help without the fear of stalled career progression and ridicule.
Interested to know how Learning Seat can help you to build a mentally healthy workplace? Contact us today about making the change by calling 1300 133 151.