You need to know how to manage workplace mental health
It is almost certain that workplace mental health problems are costing your organisation and your industry as a whole. Untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces an estimated $10.9 billion per year, including $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims, according to beyondblue’s State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report from 2014. And these numbers fail to take into account more insidious costs such as the potential damage to corporate culture.
Responsibility for the management of workplace mental health usually falls to the HR department, but it is not always easy to know how best to tackle such a large and complex – while at the same time deeply personal – problem.
Professor Andrew Noblet from Deakin Business School has been studying organisational behaviour and employee wellbeing for over 20 years. His research suggests that effective workplace mental health management combines three strategies. Employers must first be ready with interventions to address individual mental health problems, regardless of the cause. They must also have in place strategies to better prepare the organisation as a whole. These include both mental health literacy programs that improve people’s ability to recognise the symptoms of depression and anxiety in the workplace and stress prevention programs focused on reducing work-related risk factors.
Stigma of mental health issues
Workplace interventions to directly deal with individual mental health problems as and when they arise seems like the most straightforward solution to adopt. Surely it’s enough to outsource to a counselling service and make employees aware of the resource?
Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple. Clinical psychologist, Dr Jay Spence explains. “One in five Australian workers suffer from a mental health condition each year, yet only one in 20 access the employee counselling service,” he says. People tend to downplay their stress and worry about the time off and possible stigma attached to seeking “therapy”, so many workplace mental health problems go untreated.
New technologies are offering employers more options when it comes to providing individual mental health interventions. Online health startup, Uprise, which is headed by Spence, offers a system that combines online and in-app training with a mental health coach via phone or videochat. The system capitalises on growing evidence that online treatments perform consistently with face-to-face therapies. The hope is that the ability to login at a time and place that suits the employee will overcome concerns about time and social stigma.
ReachOut Australia, a leading online mental health organisation for young people, has recently launched two new apps that enable young people to independently manage anxiety and stress. ReachOut Breathe uses simple visuals to reduce the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety by slowing down the heart rate. ReachOut WorryTime helps users control anxiety by scheduling worry so that it is confined to a specific time of day.
These offerings herald the development of technologies that are less costly for employers, both in terms of upfront investment and employee downtime, while offering employees greater privacy and control in managing their mental health.
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