Mental health: The invisible challenge for business

The pressures of financial stress, job insecurity and personal challenges create situations that flow into the workplace

Mental health: The invisible challenge for business

You’d have to be living in a cave if you weren’t aware of an employee who suffered mental ill-health at one point.

The pressures of daily life, financial stress, job insecurity and personal challenges create situations that flow into the workplace.

The costs of mental ill-health
In Australia, the cost of mental ill-health is said to be approximately $60 billion per annum. That’s roughly $4,000 per taxpayer. Putting aside the human cost, mental ill-health clearly has an economic impact on the growth of the Australian economy. This means it affects businesses, both directly and indirectly.
Managing what you can’t see
Mental health can be difficult for employers to understand. You can’t see the physical injury, so how do you know it exists? And while factors from outside the workplace play a significant role in creating mental health issues, the contributing factor of stress within the workplace can’t be ignored.

The impact of failing to manage mental ill-health in the workplace can include:

  • the loss of good employees
  • workers compensation claims
  • increased sick leave
  • high turnover of staff, and
  • bullying and harassment claims.

Trying to work out what causes mental ill-health in employees is difficult. It is an ‘invisible’ challenge for employers and one that requires a proactive approach for success.

Approaching with suspicion and looking to disprove an individual’s mental ill-health can have negative results for all involved.

Whether the individual is suffering mental ill-health from conditions like bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, depression, anxiety or stress, they are all manageable conditions that employees (and other members of the Australian public) live with every day.

If a claim arises, having the right support and policies in place is a better strategy than trying to prove the case against the employee.

Implementing a mental health plan in your workplace
With regulatory intervention likely in the near future, 2018 is the year that all businesses need to implement a mental health program in the workplace.

Our top five tips for developing a mental health plan are:

  1. Let go of unhelpful incidents of suspicion against employees claiming mental ill-health. In the absence of reasonable evidence to the contrary, give employees the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Provide managers and supervisors with training about mental ill-health.
  3. Treat employees with mental ill-health as you would any injured employee, by allowing them to take time off to recover from an injury and to seek a safe return to work.
  4. Ensure that employees feel supported and that their mental ill-health circumstances will be kept confidential (where possible).
  5. Provide access to external support (like Employee Assistance Programs and other counselling).
Benefits of a workplace mental health plan
If businesses can implement an effective mental health plan in the workplace in 2018, they will enjoy a range of tangible benefits over the medium term, including:
  • cultural improvements
  • increased productivity
  • fewer workers compensation claims
  • reduced sick leave, and
  • minimised legal liability.

Not only will you contribute to strengthening the Australian economy, you will be on the front foot when regulations start to roll in.

Joe Murphy is a Managing Director at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors (ABLA). Serving business and only business, this legal and advisory firm is trusted by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and is the leading voice for industry in the Fair Work Commission. Call Joe on 1300 565 846 or [email protected] if you have any questions about matters raised in this article.


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