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Report shows increasing efforts by businesses to deal with mental health in the workplace

Ai Group has today released a landmark study into mental health initiatives taken in local workplaces. The report looks at the nature of the initiatives, factors behind their success, the barriers they encounter along the way, and the results they generate.

Griffith University was commissioned by Ai Group to undertake this research which is the first deep-dive of its kind into what is actually happening in workplaces as businesses deal with this highly complex issue.

Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said: "There is significantly increased awareness and interest within Australian workplaces around mental health issues. The study reveals a very human core to the efforts of businesses as they grapple with difficult issues. It also finds benefits from initiatives undertaken in terms of improved productivity and reduced absenteeism and staff turnover.

"The first part of the study looks at current academic research for evidence of what workplaces are doing about mental health. The second component involves six case studies of organisations from various industry sectors, including large and small businesses, all of whom had indicated they had taken some initiatives in relation to mental health.

"A key reason for Ai Group commissioning this report is to give other businesses insight into the sorts of steps others are taking in response to mental health issues at their workplaces. It is intended to assist in the design and evaluation of their own approaches," Mr Willox said.

The report finds that:

  • There are a wide range of initiatives being undertaken by the studied businesses with each implementing an average of seven separate initiatives.
  • The most common initiatives include:
    • Employee Assistance Programs
    • Mental health awareness day (for example RUOK day)
    • Mental health first-aid training
    • Organisation-wide meetings that included discussion of mental health issues
  • Factors that facilitate the introduction of employee mental health initiatives included:
    • The personal commitment of an organisation leader to improving the organisation's response to mental health. This can stem from direct or indirect personal experience with mental health challenges
    • A clear business case for mental health support
    • An organisational culture that is aligned with or fits mental health activities
    • Activities to develop leaders who know their people and are able to identify mental health issues that develop
    • A budget for activities to address employee mental health

"Almost universally, stigma was cited as the greatest barrier to engaging with mental health initiatives within organisations. This matches the findings of other studies on mental health," Mr Willox said.

"Other barriers organisations encounter included:

  • Managerial reluctance in dealing with employee mental health issues.
  • A lack of engagement by individual employees or groups of employees with the organisation and/or mental health activities.
  • Understanding how to access mental health assistance.
  • A lack of internal capability and knowledge on mental health.
  • Differing cultural attitudes to talking about mental health.

"A significant finding is that some businesses report that mental health issues in their workplaces are driven by social issues such as high unemployment and substance abuse in the surrounding community.

"Finally, businesses indicate a clear preference to improve their capability to understand and assist with mental health issues, particularly by raising awareness and reducing stigma. Larger organisations are looking at taking a strategic approach to mental health rather than implementing discrete initiatives. They are also keen to know how to better measure outcomes.

"This report will help inform the emerging debate on what should be the proper response by policy makers, businesses, employees and others to dealing with this important and highly complex area," Mr Willox said.

Full Report is available here

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