30 Way – Mental Health & Wellbeing In The Workplace
The Services Union is continuing with its 27 Ways and Growing Campaign with the launch of its 30th Way – Mental Health & Wellbeing In The Workplace.
Mental illness, like physical illness, does not discriminate and can affect anyone, irrespective of nationality or ethnic background. It is estimated that, at any point in time, one in six working age people will be suffering from mental illness.
Mental health covers a range of mental health conditions, ranging from feeling ‘a bit down’ to common disorders such as depression and anxiety, and in some cases, to severe mental health illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia, eating disorders and self-harm.
Mental health in the workplace refers to the relationship between employee mental health and the workplace. When workers feel good about themselves, they often work productively, interact well with colleagues and make a valuable contribution to their team or workplace.
However, many workers experience poor mental health because of unaddressed psychological hazards in their workplace. Workplace stressors can range from bullying, unreasonable workloads, inflexible work scheduling and an inability to influence job related decisions.
Why is this important?
- 9 in 10 Australian employees believe mentally healthy workplaces are important.
- 5 in 10 Australian employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy so that means 50% believe theirs is not. Mentally unhealthy workplaces impact on employee behaviour.
- One in five Australians have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. This statistic doubles among those who consider their workplace mentally unhealthy.
- In a recent ACTU survey of 26 000 members more than 80% of respondents said they have become injured or ill or both as a result of their work.
There are several costs associated with a mentally unhealthy workplace. They include absenteeism, presenteeism (where an employee remains at work despite experiencing symptoms that result in reduced levels of productivity) and the cost of workers compensation claims. Some studies have estimated that the cost of unhealthy workplaces to business in Australia is in the order of $11 billion (PWC 2014) to $12.8 billion each year (KPMG and Mental Health Australia 2018).
What are the risk factors that undermine a mentally healthy workplace?
We need to understand the risk factors that are specific to the workplace that can undermine the mental health of those in the workplace. In brief these risks include:
- Job demand and control – jobs with high emotional and cognitive demands, but with little control or autonomy in decision making.
- Effort-reward imbalance – the perception and experience of the employee that their effort is inadequately rewarded both financially and non-financially.
- Exposure to trauma – regular exposure to traumatic events and/or potential threats as well as exposure to bullying or intimidatory behaviour.
- Job insecurity – the perception of employees as to how secure they consider their employment to be and the degree to which the fee powerless to do anything about it.
A mentally healthy workplace is one that can recognise and manage these workplace related risks to prevent or minimise their potential negative impact on the mental health of workers.
Why is this issue so important?
- Australian employees expect mental health support in the workplace environment, but many are not aware of, or are unable to access appropriate resources;
- Three quarters (75%) of Australian employees believe workplaces should provide support to someone who is experiencing depression or anxiety;
- When mental health is valued, and appropriate resources are available in the workplace, there are real benefits to business;
- In workplaces that employees consider mentally healthy, self-reported absenteeism as a result of experiencing mental ill-health almost halves (13%); and
- Australian businesses lose $10.9 billion each year to mental illness in the workplace.
Our Union strives on a daily basis to ensure that our members have the 9 attributes needed for a healthy workplace – and this is part of the campaign’s aim.
A mentally healthy workplace, while important, is only one component underpinning the mental health of an individual. The specific workplace related risks are part of a much larger group of risk factors to mental health that are outside the workplace that need to be considered.
The returns from investing in workplace initiatives
The benefits to employers from investing in mental health initiatives is reduced absenteeism, workers compensation claims and increased productivity.
Recent research and studies have found there are healthy returns to employers for such investments:
- A PwC study (PWC2014) estimated a return to employers of $2.30 for each $1 spent on successfully implementing appropriate action to improve mental health in the workplace.
- KPMG (KMPG and Mental Health Australia 2018) estimated that the return on each $1 invested in workplace interventions ranged from $1.30 for interventions that improved job control to $4.70 for return to work programs.
- A study commissioned by Safework Australia and published by the NSW Government (Yu and Glozier 2017) estimated a return of between $1.50 and $4 for each $1 spent.
Note: A large proportion of the returns to employers for these initiative and programs results from potential reductions in ‘presenteeism’ and the subsequent increase in productivity from the increased mental health and wellbeing of the workforce.
What can we do?
Unions and their representatives can assist by working within their industries and with employers to promote mental health related initiatives and entitlements in the workplace and to make the case for jointly incorporating:
- Mental health and wellbeing clauses in workplace agreements;
- Mental health and wellbeing policies in the workplace; and
- Utilising established mental health resources (i.e. toolkits) committed to mental health.
Mental health and well-being in workplace agreements
Unions have a vital role to play in raising awareness of mental health as a workplace issue as well as supporting members with mental health problems in the workplace. One way in which we can take the lead in securing the best outcomes for our members is through workplace agreement negotiations and the introduction of model clauses.
As workplaces and organisations are complex, interventions need to be developed and implemented and evaluated and then scaled up or tailored differently to meet the needs of the organisation (Glozier 2017). What works for larger employers may not work for smaller employers and similarly in different sectors across our union and the economy. A mental health and wellbeing clause in an enterprise bargaining agreement needs to be considered along with the proposed relevant policies and legislation.