Mental illness has become one the leading causes of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity – sometimes even the leading cause. As a result, mental health and productivity in the workplace are at crisis levels.
Well, employees with unresolved depression experience a 35 per cent reduction in their productivity, according to U.S. data from the American Psychiatric Association.
In Australia, the Productivity Commission estimates that employees with mental illness take an annual average of 10 to 12 days off due to psychological distress. Total costs from lost productivity range from AUD 12 billion to AUD 39 billion.
Compliance costs come into play, as well. Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) are legally obligated to eliminate risks to the health and safety of their employees.
By statute, health encompasses mental wellbeing in the workplace in many countries.
A broad array of psychosocial hazards, therefore, come into play for employers. These are mental health and wellbeing aspects of work that have the potential to cause psychological or physical harm.
The relevant aspects of work falling under the employer’s duty of care obligation include:
Employers might be loath to intervene in what they consider the personal issues of their workers.
However, the costs for flouting this component of duty of care are steep. In Australia, the cost of workers compensation claims related to work-related mental health conditions is about two and half times higher than that of other claims. They also involve significantly more time off work for employees.
What’s more, the evidence now indicates that workplaces themselves need to play an active role in managing and supporting mental health at work – even in the virtual office. The remaining question, of course, is how.
Key, here, are monitoring worker mental health and understanding the factors that contribute to mentally healthy workers. According to the research , the factors that contribute to a mentally healthy workplace include the following:
What more can be done to enhance workplace mental health and wellbeing?
According to best practice, senior management should intervene to clarify the importance of workplace mental health and wellbeing.
After all, every major organisational initiative needs leadership commitment and worker buy-in. Managing and supporting mental health at work is no different.
Strategies to demonstrate leadership commitment and secure worker participation include:
Implementing best-practice standards, such as ISO 45003: Psychological health and safety at work, can help, as well.
ISO 45003 is the International Organisation for Standardisation’s first foray into psychological health and safety at work. Written to help organisations already using occupational health and safety (OHS) systems based on ISO 45001: 2018, the later standard provides simple, practical guidance on how to manage the psychosocial hazards that arise in the work environment.
What else? The standard also enables organisations to prevent work-related injury and ill health (whether of employees, customers, or other stakeholders) and promote wellbeing in the workplace.
How, exactly? The standard sketches out how to develop, implement, maintain, and improve healthy and safe workplace practices, with the aim of helping business leaders identify where psychosocial risks arise and how those risks can be mitigated or eliminated.
In early sections, the standard highlights key areas shown to impact workers’ psychological health, with the intent of making compliant organisations able to do the following:
Other relevant measures for managing and supporting mental health at work include understanding the full context of the organisation.
The following issues are all germane to the management of psychosocial risks:
The supply chain in which the organisation operates
Relationships with contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, providers, and other interested parties
The sharing of workplaces, resources, and equipment with other parties
Customer and/or client requirements for service provision
Economic conditions that can affect availability, duration, and location of work
The nature of work contracts, remuneration, employment conditions, and industrial relations
The demographics of workers who are available for work
Rapid technological changes
Labour force mobility, creating greater diversity among workers with different backgrounds and cultures, and speaking different languages
The wider context of the geographical region affecting the organisation
How the organisation is governed and managed
The organisation’s level of commitment and direction with respect to psychological health, safety, and wellbeing at work, as set out in policy statements, guidelines, objectives, and strategies
Other management systems adopted by the organisation that can interact with the management of psychosocial risks
Size and nature of the organisation’s workforce
Characteristics of workers and the workforce
Competence of workers to recognise psychosocial hazards and manage risks
Locations of work
Workers’ terms and conditions
Adequacy and availability of resources
What other factors matter? Understanding the needs and expectations of workers is also paramount.
Employers should know that their workers (and other stakeholders) have a variety of needs and expectations that can be influenced by psychosocial risks at work. Those include:
Finally, in this age of mental health crisis, workplaces should update their safety management system as well as related operations and activities to address psychosocial risk.
That might entail procuring mental health management software. Such a solution will help employers maintain a comprehensive view of the wellbeing of their workers. Through various assessments, checks, analytics, and resources, employers will therefore be able to manage the physical and mental wellbeing of personnel across various locations and programs – a key capability in this era of fragmented workplaces.
Dr. Samuel B Harvey et al, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales: Developing a mentally healthy workplace: A review of the literature: A report for the National Mental Health Commission and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance. Available at http://affinityhealthhub.co.uk/d/attachments/developing-a-mentally-healthy-workplace-final-november-2014-1476727013.pdf
Published May 19, 2021