Good mental health is good business

Mental Health: A new look at the sickie.

Sally Kirkright
(Sydney Morning Herald)

October is Mental Health Awareness Month and the perfect opportunity for business owners and managers to review therir organisation’s health and wellness strategies.

Mental health costs Australian employers $10.9 billion a year. Absenteeism due to mental health results in $6 million dollars or 12 million days’ productivity lost each year.

A recent study by market research firm TNS found a mentally healthy workplace makes employees more committed to their jobs and less likely to seek alternative employment. Half the employees surveyed have left a workplace because of a poor mental health environment. Respondents also claimed a mentally healthy workplace was the second most important factor in their decision to accept a new job.

The impact of physical activity to the performance and productivity of employees has been well documented. A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found 96 per cent of working Australians had at least one chronic disease risk factor. Chronic diseases are preventable through healthy lifestyle choices. The economic cost of physical inactivity in terms of lost productivity is estimated at $9.3 billion a year. The bottom line is, if you’re not investing in workplace health and wellbeing programs, you are losing money.

With 60 per cent of waking hours spent at work, workplaces offer the prime location to educate employees about mental and physical health and wellness and provide preventative programs. Here are some of my top reasons for investing in a mentally and physically healthy workplace;

1)     It improves productivity

Healthy workers rate their work performance higher than unhealthy workers and have fewer short-term absences than their unhealthy counterparts. An Australian study found the healthiest workers are almost three times more effective than the least healthy, with the healthiest employees working approximately 143 effective hours per month compared to just 49 effective hours from the least healthy.

2)     It’s good for business

Workplace health promotion interventions that are comprehensive, well-designed and successfully implemented will have a positive return on investment. It will help reduce the costs associated with absenteeism and a high staff turnover and help create work-life effectiveness for employees.

3)     It’s the law

Employers have legal obligations in relation to the management of health and safety in the workplace. Workplace health and safety legislation requires employers to ensure the workplace is safe and healthy for all workers and does not cause ill health or aggravate existing conditions. This legislation refers to both mental and physical health.

4)     Workers demand it

A National Workplace Health Index found health initiatives at work are important to employees, with close to 80 per cent of respondents stating they would rather work for an organisation that provides healthy living programs. A total of 83.5 per cent of respondents also thought their own health and wellbeing could be improved.

5)     Financial gain

Effective workplace initiatives focusing on mental health have been shown to have a positive impact on business with every dollar invested returning $2.30 to the economy through decreased absenteeism and presenteeism.

Mental and physical health is fundamentally linked. More organisations are looking at the link between employee health and productivity and adopting workplace programs that support healthy lifestyles. Those who eat well and exercise are generally healthier and probably going to have less time off work. They also have more energy to contribute while at work.

Corporate Bodies International has just released the Employee Health – a snapshot of Australia’s working bodies industry report that looked at 12,500 employee health assessments across a spectrum of businesses. The report found 80 per cent of Australian workers perform inadequate physical activity with 64 per cent of workers found to be overweight or obese.

This extensive data set provides valuable insight into the current health risk of Australian workers. Despite the well-established benefits of regular exercise, the majority of employees assessed did not meet the minimum recommendations. Physical health programs are vital to ensure a healthy, productive workforce and business owners and leaders play a critical role in making this happen.

To create a healthy workplace, business owners need to consider both mental and physical health and if necessary, introduce programs to benefit workers. These programs need to be part of the overall company strategy for a health workplace.

Follow this approach to ensure your workplace has an holistic approach to wellbeing and takes into account both the mental and physical factors when considering employees welfare.

Educate workers

Awareness of both physical and mental health is essential and needs to be promoted from the top down. Employees need to be made aware of the benefits of being mentally and physically healthy and advised of simple ways in which they can achieve this.

Take part in health events

There are numerous national and international health related events designed to help create awareness and promote wellbeing in the workplace. Mental Health Awareness Month in October is one of the largest but there is also R U Ok? Day, Men’s Health Week and many others. Taking part in these events will help raise awareness and reduce the stigma within your organisation.

Provide preventative health services

Providing employees with regular health checks, mental health awareness training, resilience building training and promoting regular exercise to employees will help build a healthy workforce.

Introduce a wellbeing program

A wellbeing program will go a long way to ensuring your employees are fit, healthy and productive.

 Sally Kirkright is the CEO of AccessEAP


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