Professor Fels was speaking to businesses leaders at the Trans-Tasman Business Circle event in Sydney on 1 December, where he shared the findings of a new report on what has been proven across both mental health and management research to improve mental health at work.
The report, Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace: A review of the literature, was produced by the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute for the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance. It identifies six success factors for a mentally healthy workplace and a five-step process for embedding them.
Professor Fels said: “Poor mental health is a significant burden on our economy. The direct financial impact of mental ill-health on Australian businesses is in the vicinity of $11 billion every year, largely due to absenteeism and reduced productivity.
“The opportunity cost of not promoting good mental health at work, and not supporting people who have mental health conditions or care for others who do is therefore very, very high. Nonetheless, almost all of us have witnessed people and practices in the workplace that ignore the needs of individuals or sometimes the whole team, and the resulting impacts such as staff turnover, absenteeism, low productivity and poor morale.
“A lot of what the research confirms is common sense. For example, things like smarter work design and positive work cultures are key to preventing mental health problems, while promoting resilience and early intervention can both help minimise negative impacts and support recovery," Professor Fels said.
Dr Sam Harvey, Black Dog Institute researcher and Consultant Psychiatrist, says improving workplace mental health will also have significant benefits for the wider community: “In Australia, about 60 per cent of the population spends about 60 per cent of their waking hours at work. This means workplaces are a prime location to base mental health programs.
“By implementing good quality mental health management across all levels of business, we will not only improve productivity but reduce the unacceptably high rates of mental ill health among Australians.”
The report outlines six success factors for a mentally healthy workplace:
- Smarter work design – e.g. enhancing flexibility around working hours and encouraging employee involvement.
- Building better work cultures (organisational resilience) – e.g. encouraging a culture of flexibility, building a safe and positive work climate, implementing anti-bullying policies, enhancing organisational justice, promoting team based interventions such as employee participation and providing group support, providing manager training and managing change effectively.
- Building individual resilience – e.g. providing resilience training, coaching and mentoring, and physical activity programs.
- Promoting and facilitating early help-seeking – e.g. conducting well-being checks once appropriate support and resources are in place, providing stress management for workers with reported stress, using of Employee Assistance Programs which utilise experienced staff and evidence-based methods and peer support schemes.
- Supporting recovery – e.g. providing a supportive environment, providing supervisor support and training, facilitating flexible sick leave arrangements, providing return-to-work programs, encourages individual placement support for those with severe mental illness.
- Increasing awareness – e.g. providing mental health education and training.
The evidence also suggests that creating a mentally healthy workplace requires an ongoing, staged approach. The five key steps include:
- establishing commitment, leadership and support
- conducting a situational analysis – looking at what is working and what isn’t
- identifying and implementing the workplace mental health strategy
- reviewing outcomes
- adjusting intervention strategies.
The Heads Up website provides a host of resources to help businesses work through this approach, including an online action plan tool that organisations can tailor to suit their specific needs and priorities.