Article originally published in Business IT (BIT), original article available here.
The mental health challenge comes into focus.
You’re not alone in noting increased attention on mental health. Catalysed by the fallout from the bushfires and ongoing COVID-19 crisis, mental health is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
It’s been a long time coming. An estimated 2.8 million Australians have a mental illness; an additional 440,000 people care for someone with a mental illness. At these rates, mental health affects the wider economy.
The cost of mental health to businesses
According to the Productivity Commission, the annual cost of mental ill-health and suicide ranges from $43 billion to $70 billion. Annual direct cost of healthcare expenditure and other services and supports comes in at around $16 billion.
These numbers fluctuate; our present crisis period will no doubt generate even higher mental health costs that will hit businesses directly.
Mental illness erodes worker productivity, causing higher attrition, absenteeism, and presenteeism, i.e., lower efficiency and engagement when workers are physically on the job but not fully performing their duties.
Employees suffering from mental illness take an annual average of 10 to 12 days off due to psychological distress. Every year, total costs from lost productivity amount to $12 billion to $39 billion.
The compliance risk of mentally unhealthy workplaces
Besides lost productivity, employers also run the risk of regulatory sanction if they don’t take the psychological health and safety of their workers seriously.
In every state, territory, or federal jurisdiction, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) are legally obligated to eliminate (or at least reduce) risks to the health and safety of their employees. By law, health encompasses physical and psychological wellbeing.
If they flout this duty of care obligation, employers might have to pay up. And they’ll pay big.
The cost of workers’ compensation claims related to work-related mental health conditions is about two and half times higher than other claims. Those claims also involve significantly more time off work for employees.
What’s more, as codes of practice get codified in the space, as has been recommended, they will constitute even stricter compliance drivers for PCBUs.
How can digital technology help employers get ahead of the compliance curve?
How can employers mitigate the compliance risk? The best way to do so is to create mentally healthy workplaces.
According to the Productivity Commission, the attributes of such workplaces include:
- Recognition and management of workplace-related psychosocial risks, including job demand and control, effort-reward imbalance, exposure to trauma, and job insecurity
- Suitable action taken to prevent or minimise the potential negative impact of psychosocial risks on the mental health of workers
- Encouragement and promotion of resilience factors
Of course, creating a mentally healthy workplace in such a tumultuous time isn’t easy. But digital software can help businesses, particularly smaller enterprises (SMEs), lighten the load by better understanding the concerns of their workers, responding to mental health and wellbeing events, and constantly improving as new practices enter the field.
Indeed, the best way to efficiently implement mentally healthy workplace practices quickly is to understand the concerns of your workers then stand up the initiatives that encourage and promote their resilience.
Certain digital technologies that already fit within your safety management solution are well positioned to help. We recommend finding such a platform, with tools for all levels of the business that securely stores personnel information or easily imports it from an existing HR solution.
That’s not all. When it comes to helping you recognise and manage workplace-related psychosocial risks, these solutions generate better situational awareness of the current events impacting personnel, so that you can respond in real time. The solutions also conduct welfare checks at scale, quickly triaging responses and pushing surveys to personnel to understand how they are coping before, during and after traumatic events, thereby potentially limiting exposure.
While situational awareness is great, taking suitable action is just as important. These digital solutions help, here, too. They broadcast timely communications to distributed personnel, enable requests for mental health and wellbeing support, and direct personnel to support programs and relevant information.
What’s more, new practices are coming out of the wellbeing space daily. The resilient workplaces of today will have different attributes than those of tomorrow.
These wellbeing solutions provide the requisite scalability and flexibility: out-of-the-box best-practice templates enabling organisations to immediately launch initiatives meeting employees’ modern workplace needs, such as work-for-home ergonomic assessments, end-to-end COVID-19 vaccination management, and wellbeing reporting.
The ability to easily configure these solutions also lets you customise initiatives to your evolving requirements, while having a constant stream of updated best-practice content at your disposal to keep your wellbeing program at the cutting edge.
As mental health concerns come into increased focus, employers need to act with urgency to get into compliance with their duty of care obligations to eliminate psychosocial hazards. However, achieving compliance doesn’t have to be belaboured. Investing in flexible wellbeing technology will help employers not only cut down their time to compliance but also recoup the business benefits of running mentally healthy workplaces, such as higher productivity, lower costs, and increased professional development among workers.
About the Author: James Boddam-Whetham is the CEO of Noggin, an integrated security, safety, crisis & emergency management, and business continuity software provider. Noggin provides dedicated software solutions that help businesses comply with protective security obligations (PSOs) and the Australian Security of Critical Infrastructure Act.