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The true value of a mentally healthy workforce

21 July 2016 - 3:55pm

According to the 2015 edition of the Stress and Wellbeing Survey from the Australian Psychological Association (APA), last year was a difficult one for the mental health of the nation as a whole. One in three of us reported having a significant level of distress in life, while anxiety symptoms were the highest they have been for the last five years.

While mental health might be seen as a purely private affair, and in many ways it is, there is also evidence that employers and employment can have a serious effect on our ability to cope with the modern stresses of life. On the one hand, the APA survey revealed that full-time employment is linked with higher wellbeing outcomes - the financial stability and directed purpose of employment likely having a positive effect on mental health.

However, on the other, the Black Dog Institute tells us that one in six Australian workers are experiencing a mental illness, while many others are going through the initial stages of psychological distress such as insomnia, worry and fatigue. Employment certainly helps, but it can also cause it's own set of issues.

The modern Australian worker has a lot to contend with.The modern Australian worker has a lot to contend with.

Apples to apples

Australians have long had a reputation for being a tough bunch, able to rise to the challenge of near anything, but stress in the workplace is as insidious as it is dangerous. Some people are more heavily affected than others: Those in demanding positions or industries such as nurses, lawyers and teachers are particularly at risk of mental health issues according to the Black Dog Institute. 

However, there are a fair few other consistent factors that span multiple career types. Poor relationships with colleagues, a lack of recognition or rewards or a poor work/life balance can all contribute to a less-than-stellar mental health outcome. That isn't just a concern for the nation's wellbeing and our health system as a whole, but for the productivity of our enterprises as well.

The status of the workplace

Both major political parties have taken aim at mental health this year.

It's well-established that poor workplace health can create a drag on your business productivity, and that doesn't just include too many people taking sick days. Mental health is also a factor, and employees are becoming more open to the idea of employers taking an active role in their health according to the 2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey from Willis Towers Watson. 

That same survey revealed that higher workplace stress results in higher absenteeism, while poor workplace health creates a lack of engagement for employees - a key factor in creating an efficient and motivated workforce. 

As a result, Australia is faced with a stressed workforce that wants greater input from their employers, and mismanaging this nationwide issue can create outcomes that aren't just bad for your employees, but for your business as well. Both major political parties have taken aim at mental health this year, but there is still plenty that can be done in the workplace as well.

Beyond productivity

Tackling workplace mental health is no small order.

When boiled down to its essence, tackling workplace mental health is no small order. There are issues of stigma, the inherently demanding nature of many jobs and some issues like organisational changes that are out of your control. However, you can encourage healthy workplace practices in a multitude of ways: Mindfulness, social events and dealing with interpersonal issues between workers are an easy beginning. Meanwhile, providing opportunities for advancement and recognising good work in a meaningful way can compound your efforts.

Even simple environmental changes such as better lighting could make a difference. Free and open communication of issues will let employees know they can voice their concerns rather than bottling them up, while training yourself and your staff to recognise the early warning signs could do a great deal to mitigate damage in the long run. 

Young workers have an emphasis on employee wellbeing.Young workers have an emphasis on employee wellbeing.

Furthermore, there are some indirect effects on the make-up of your workforce as well, as a result of these kinds of changes. In the 2016 Millennial Survey from Deloitte, the research firm found that young Australians considered employee satisfaction to be the most significant driver of long-term success for an enterprise. That same survey also discovered that, other than salary, a good work-life balance was considered even more important than career progression.

Both of these factors are also important to mental health among your workers. Not only are you keeping your people happy, productive and healthy, you are helping to keep a hold of the talent of tomorrow.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to ensure mental health is addressed in any corporate insurance health plan. By aligning your corporate objectives with an employer-supported health insurance plan, you can address a range of issues, providing employees with tools, information and access to health professionals to enhance their health and mental wellbeing. If you're interested in taking a stand against workplace stress and mental strain, make sure you get in touch with the team at HICA on 1300 44 22 01.