Very few of us leave our work at our desks at 5pm. Our deadlines follow us through our devices and many find ourselves scrolling through our emails while still bleary-eyed in bed or answering requests after work hours.
Unsurprisingly, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are becoming increasingly common in the workplace and organisations are realising the impact poor mental health has on performance and associated costs.
Damon Muttukumaru, Senior Psychologist at the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, believes there are a few specific factors contributing to poor mental health in corporate environments.
“Office environments (clearly) impact on our psychological and social well being, and I would typically start with considering things such as engagement, job satisfaction, safety (including psychosocial risk), group morale and sense of belonging.”
The toll these factors have is multi-faceted and extensive.
“The toll is, very sadly, far reaching. From an economic standpoint, the cost is massive – the numbers are shocking!” Muttukumaru says.
Mental illness costs the nation more than $10.9 billion per year in lost productivity.
Muttukumaru highlights the benefits of early intervention efforts and support services. The PwC Mentally Healthy Workplace Productivity Report found for every $1 invested in mental health initiatives, there’s an average return of $2.30 across industries.
The return is even more substantial for public administration, where we see a return of $5.70 for every $1.
“The gurus on this all talk of the extraordinary pay off of early intervention efforts and support services. The view I see is the human cost: effect on individuals, families, teams. The final thing I’ll add, it is easy to fall into the trap of looking at only the mental illness continuum and not notions of positive mental health, and broader concepts of wellness.”
While public attitudes towards people with mental health illnesses are improving, there remains significant change to be made to remove the stigma from the workplace. According to the Mental Health Council of Australia, 69% of people are uncomfortable disclosing a mental illness to an employer; 35% said it was not even a possibility. Of people taking sick leave due to depression, 40% hid the fact from their boss.
Having those conversations can be made more difficult by office culture and a ‘harden up’ attitude, as well as the common misconception that conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar and anxiety diminish the person’s ability to fulfill their role.
“Leadership is key to set the tone,” Muttukumaru says. “Awareness/training programs can at the very least increase mental health literacy and confidence to have the conversations.
When crafting a workplace mental health strategy, Muttukumaru believes ownership needs to come from the employee level.
“Outside of that, you need individuals and teams to take ownership- it is great to have specialist advisors (e.g psychologists, HR specialists,etc), but unless the line areas see value in these concepts you have limited change of shaping corporate cultures.”
The Public Sector Workplace Mental Health Strategies conference, running from 3 – 5 December 2019 in Canberra, brings together government agencies to share practical strategies to develop a positive workplace culture and improve employee mental health outcomes. With key insight from senior leadership champions of employee wellbeing, attendees will learn from evidence-based case studies in designing and implementing mental health initiatives.