Today marks R U OK? Day – a national campaign that has been running for 13 years and acknowledged in schools and workplaces around the country.
Depending on your work from home policies, you may be enjoying a cupcake with your team and sending out an email from the Work Health and Safety (WHS) team with some wellness tips.
But, if that is all you are planning to do, your employees may well accuse you of wellness-washing, as expectations on businesses’ ability to navigate mental health issues increases.
While it is hard to estimate the costs of mental health on the Australian community, recent Productivity Commission estimates suggested they are in the range of $43 billion to $70 billion annually.
This comprises a range of social and economic costs, including the direct cost of providing mental health services, reduced economic participation of those suffering from mental health and the burdens imposed on family and friends who provide informal care.
As these estimates were made before the pandemic, it is likely the costs have risen since.
In Ai Group’s 2023 CEO Survey, 78 per cent of businesses reported an operational impact from staff mental health issues.
For comparison, 79 per cent reported an operational impact from supply chain disruptions.
Staff mental health, therefore, is on par with supply chain disruptions as an operational impact on Australian business. (Don’t forget 2022 was the worst year for supply chain pain in living memory!)
We do not really know if the incidence of mental health issues is increasing in our community. What we do know is that it is becoming more acceptable to discuss issues of concern and seek support.
Most workers’ compensation schemes are reporting increases in the number of claims for psychological injury and highlighting that the time off work for these claims is significantly longer than claims for physical injuries.
In the most recent data available from Safe Work Australia for 2020-21, mental health conditions account for 9.3 per cent of all serious claims.
This is a significant increase from 2006/07, when mental health conditions were 5.5 per cent of serious claims. A serious claim is one that has resulted in more than one working week lost (excluding fatalities and journey claims).
The obligation to manage psychosocial risks is not new. However, over recent years, there has been an increasing focus on the employer obligation to eliminate or minimise the risks associated with psychosocial hazards at work.
Dealing with psychosocial hazards is not as straightforward as guarding a machine, installing fixed fall protection or implementing a traffic control plan.
Based on our engagement with employers and regulators, there appears to be significantly different perceptions on the degree to which mental health issues manifesting at work are created by work.
In the CEO survey, 77 per cent of businesses reported to Ai Group that they have a strategy to manage staff mental health. As expected, large employers were more likely to have a strategy (86 per cent), but, interestingly, 65 per cent of small employers also indicated that they have a policy.
Businesses impacted by mental health issues were more likely to have a strategy (84 per cent) than those who were not impacted (53 per cent). However, this raises questions for further consideration.
Do businesses respond to a mental health issue by developing a strategy? Or are businesses more aware of, and supportive of, mental health issues once they have a mental health strategy?
New legislation has recently been introduced, or soon will be, in every Australian jurisdiction to heighten the awareness of employers and workers about these obligations. There is a plethora of legislative material, guidance documents and consulting services designed to assist employers to manage these hazards.
How do we translate this information into practical solutions that work in organisations?
How are businesses responding to the dual regulatory pressures of Respect@Work and WHS obligations?
If you want to do more about mental health in your workplace, Ai Group has a range of services that can assist you to identify and address the source of psychological risk in your workplaces, including our general training that helps to develop the leadership skills of managers and supervisors and on-site training specifically focused on mental health in the workplace.
Members can access support through our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77.
Louise has a broad range of experience in international policy. She has particular interest in trade and border regulations, international transport, cross cultural communication, and digital trade policy. In her role as Ai Group’s Head of Industry Development and Policy she provides strategic leadership and guidance for Ai Group’s policy agenda in building competitive industries through global integration, infrastructure development and innovation. She ensures that through policy leadership members have a voice at all levels of government, by representing and promoting their interests on current and emerging issues. Louise represents Australian Industry in several multilateral forums, such as the B20 Taskforces, Global Business Coalition, and the East Asia Business Council working group on RCEP. She advocates for the interests of Ai Group members during Free Trade Negotiations and translates those agreements to support the strategic aims of members. She is a member of CSIRO’s Responsible Use of Artificial Intelligence Think Tank and the Manufacturing Advisory Group, the NESP Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub and the Advisory Group of The Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS).