Invest in Mental Health or Lose Out

Invest in Mental Health or Lose Out

ABS statistics show that one in five Australian adults will experience a mental illness in any given year. Accordingly, mental health is an important and too frequently overlooked issue for Australian employees and their organisations.

Increasingly, however, organisations will have to take a proactive approach to tackling this issue with a new research report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) revealing that mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces more than $10.9 billion annually.

The PWC report titled Creating a mentally healthy workplace – return on investment analysis was released to coincide with the launch of Heads Up, a new national campaign to give big and small business alike practical advice about the importance of mental health in the workplace.

The report found that when organisations successfully introduce an effective action to create a mentally healthy workplace, they can expect a positive ROI of at least 2.3. In other words, for every one dollar spent, there is a $2.30 gain.

PWC has shown that some businesses can expect an even greater ROI than others. For example, small mining businesses can expect an average return of $15 for every $1 they invest in mental health, and small essential service providers can expect an average return of $14.50 for every $1 spent.

Furthermore, implementing multiple targeted actions is likely to lead to further increases in ROI.

PWC used seven initiatives to make the ROI calculation, based on their effectiveness across the “intervention continuum” (i.e. prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation/return to work).

They were:

    • Worksite physical activity program
    • Coaching and mentoring, e.g. cognitive behavioural-based leadership coaching
    • Mental health first aid and education
    • Resilience training
    • CBT based return-to-work programs
    • Wellbeing checks or health screening
    • Encouraging employee involvement

PWC were able to show that effective implementation of these actions result in reduced absenteeism, gains in productivity and a reduction in compensation claims. Other benefits included a reduction in turnover, lower management costs, reduced incident costs and lower income insurance costs for the organisation.

They also showed that organisations which effectively implement multiple targeted actions are likely to experience further increases in ROI, noting however, that the cumulative benefits of multiple actions will be less than their sum as actions may apply to the same group of employees.

Key Actions to create a mentally healthy workplace

The PWC report identified the following key actions as vital to building and sustaining a mentally healthy workplace:

  • creating a positive working environment
  • building individual skills and resilience, and/or
  • supporting staff with mental health conditions.

The report also claims that the successful implementation of any action to achieve a mentally healthy workplace is based on six critical success factors. These include:

  • Commitment from senior organisational leaders and business owners – Organisational leaders and business owners must make visible, long-term commitments to improving and maintaining good mental health in their workplaces if they want to create lasting positive change.
  • Employee participation – Employee participation is essential to improving mental health in the workplace. Employee input must be sought in every step, from planning through to implementation and review.
  • Effective development and implementation policies – Policy lays the groundwork for action. It needs to be clearly articulated and flexible enough to meet the needs of the organisation or business.
  • Resources necessary for success – Initiatives aimed at improving mental health in the workplace require adequate resourcing if they are to succeed.
  • A sustainable approach – Initial success requires ongoing effort to be sustained permanently.
  • Planning – Successful implementation will be well thought out, identifying the intended goals and objectives, including the inputs required – such as financial resources, time or additional staffing. Understanding how the success of an initiative will be measured, and what will be required to sustain these efforts over time, will help realise the benefits.

The Heads Up Campaign

The Heads Up campaign was launched in June and is an initiative of the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance to encourage Australian business leaders to take action on mental health.

The centrepiece of Heads Up is the website where employers can learn how and why they are losing money through ignoring their employees’ mental health. The website offers information and resources to educate employers but it also offers an innovative Action Plan, which enables workplaces to create tailor made mental health plans.

This Action Plan capability will make it easier for companies to maximise their ROI by helping them identify and implement the mental strategies which would be most appropriate and effective for that particular workplace.

Mental health action group beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman said Heads Up would have a long-lasting impact as it delivered benefits for employees and employers alike.

“Too many business leaders still don’t know how to help people who may be struggling with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. These people continue to face discrimination and do not receive the same support that people with physical conditions receive.

“But, adopting Heads Up can help to change that. Employers who are mindful of their employee’s wellbeing and introduce supporting policies promote greater worker satisfaction and deliver enormous productivity improvements, making it a truly win-win situation,” she said.

This Better Workplace Bulletin was  first Published in September 2014