The best way to improve employees’ mental health

by HRD13 Oct 2017
In Australia, more than six million employees take sick leave every year due to mental illness.

Moreover, untreated mental health conditions are resulting in $10.9 billion being lost every year due to absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.

What can be done to address this?

A world-first study published in Lancet Psychiatry, led by researchers at the Black Dog Institute and UNSW Sydney, has suggested that basic mental health training for managers can result in significant benefits for employees.

The research looked at the effects of a four-hour mental health training program delivered to Fire & Rescue NSW managers.

It found that the training was associated with a return on investment of $9.98 for each dollar spent on training and major reductions in work-related sickness absence.

It is also the first study to show that training managers about mental health can have a direct impact in improving occupational outcomes for workers.

Moreover, it is the first time that a dollar figure on the value of manager mental health training has been able to be calculated.

Lead author associate professor Samuel Harvey, who leads the Workplace Mental Health Research Program at the Black Dog Institute, said that workplaces and managers should be have a significant role to  play in addressing mental health.

“One of the key problems of mental illness is the impact it can have on people’s careers, but this doesn’t have to be the case,” said Harvey.

“Having a supportive manager can make a huge difference to a person’s mental wellbeing, and as this study shows, giving basic mental health training to managers can bring significant changes to both confidence and behaviour among staff.”

The trial randomly assigned 88 managers responsible for close to 4000 staff into either an intervention group – who received the RESPECT mental health training program – or a control group.

Six months later, managers were then reassessed along with their employees, with researchers measuring for changes in work-related sickness absence.

At follow-up, work-related sick leave decreased by 18% amongst those whose manager received the RESPECT training. This equated to a reduction of 6.45 hours per employee over six-months.

Further, in the same period, the control group who did not receive basic manager mental health training saw an increase in work-related sickness absence of 10%.

Harvey added that managers are in a unique position to help employees with their mental health, however many are reluctant to raise mental health concerns without formal training.

“With a large proportion of employees now working longer and more flexibly than in previous generations, these results are a promising sign that managers can take a more active role in assisting their employees to lead mentally healthier lives,” he said.

“These findings are particularly relevant for frontline emergency services workers, who face unique stressors throughout their daily duties that can potentially worsen or directly cause mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Future studies are needed to confirm these findings and to examine whether these changes in behaviour are applicable in other work settings.”


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