Managing mental health: why it should matter to businesses

Sad employee

Awareness of mental illness may have increased, but Australian businesses are still failing to recognise and manage mental health risk in the workplace, according to new research.

According to a poll of ASX Top 300 companies, 40 percent of businesses did not perceive mental illness as a potential risk to their company.

Of those that did understand the risk, almost half admitted that their organisation did not have effective policies in place to manage this risk.

The poll, by Chartered Secretaries Australia, also found that nearly 70 percent did not have anybody properly trained to identify and manage an employee suffering from mental illness.

These statistics are alarming for businesses of all kinds, considering that as many as one in five Australians suffers from mental illness.

“There is a very strong likelihood that at some stage in our working lives many of us will work with someone suffering from some form of mental illness which may or may not have been diagnosed,” CSA’s chief executive Tim Sheehy said.

This prevalence of mental illness has implications not only for the individual, but also for employers. Research shows that Australian businesses lose over $6.5 billion each year by failing to provide early intervention and treatment for employees with mental health conditions.

In relation to psychological injury claims, work pressure accounts for around half of all claims while harassment and bullying account for around a quarter of claims.

“Mental illness in the workplace is a reality. Improperly managed, it poses real risks in terms of reduced productivity, workplace conflict and loss of morale”, explained Sheehy.

He compared the current attitudes towards mental health in the workplace with that of OH&S in the construction industry 30 years ago, when ‘one or two’ fatalities were widely considered as an ‘unfortunate’ cost of doing business.

“That degree of indifference would simply not be tolerated today… Just as companies now have comprehensive OH&S policies and practices in place and a highly engaged board and executive to oversee and manage the risk of physical injury in the workplace, they also need to have similar practices in place to manage the risk of an employee suffering a mental illness,” said Sheehy.

“They should now also address the implications of widespread mental illness in the workplace and adjust their risk management polices and OH&S practices accordingly,” he added.

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