The Rise of Mental Health Recognition in the Workplace

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WellteQ was recently asked to write an article for the United Nations on how we support mental health initiatives in the workplace. Zoe Cole explains how we deliver on Sustainable Development Goal #3 – Ensuring healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.

Current State of Affairs

  • 1 out of 5 Australians take time off work every year due to poor mental health (ABS, 2018)
  • Average cost of mental health claim is $24k, 266% higher than all other claims. (SWA, 2018)
  • Workplace health programs have proven to reduce stress at home up to 37% (WellteQ, 2019)
  • Workplace health programs have increased perceived job performance by 54% (WellteQ, 2019)

The Global Rise of Depression

Understanding and investing in the health of employees is rapidly accelerating around the world. Companies are aware of the impact poor physical and mental health in their workplace and the influence they may have, good or bad, on the overall health and wellbeing of their staff. Globally, around 264 million people suffer from depression which is the leading cause of disability and many of these people also experience symptoms of anxiety (WHO, 2019).

All 17 sustainable development goals created by the UN


Poor mental health is costing Australian businesses approximately $11 billion annually (PwC, 2014). Within a 12 month period, one in every five Australians will experience a mental health condition requiring them to take time off work (ABS, 2018). The major mental health concerns vary across industries from substance abuse in FIFO industries to anxiety in IT, media and financial institutions. Mental health claims are approximately $24,000 each compared the average of $9,000 for all other claim types (Safe Work Australia, 2018). Australia isn’t the only country suffering, the World Health Organisation (2019) believes working environments unsupportive to mental health is costing the world economy $1 trillion annually.

It seems that long hours and unpaid overtime are becoming more common in a range of industries. 91% of workers’ compensation claims for a mental health condition were linked to work-related stress or mental stress (Safe Work Australia, 2018). Burnout is a major factor for turn over of staff as they feel overworked and unrelenting pressures at work.

How Do We Fix This?

It’s important to approach health holistically. The most successful programs include physical health (exercise and nutrition), mental health, social health and financial health. More than 9 out of 10 employees believe that mental health in the workplace is important, yet only 52% of people feel like it’s being addressed (Heads Up, 2014).

Programs need to be fun, engaging and meaningful to the employee in order to see long term, sustainable behaviour change. The services involved should be strategic with specific KPI’s to achieve goals, however, leave these pieces of information in the boardroom and outwardly promote the personal benefits of being involved in a health program. Research has proven mentally healthy workplaces not only improve the mental condition of the employees but their families as well.

There are some great success stories and organisations already tackling mental health. In the blue-collar space, Mates in Mining play a huge role in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and normalise the ability to recognise and talk about it. In fact, just last year a study was published by the University of Newcastle assessing Mates in Mining’s impact.

Integrated Wellbeing Programs Have Better Success

Eight Australian mines engaged in the research with 1,275 miners participating in the program. It offered both general awareness and connector training to employees and a more in-depth training for supervisors to help them recognise and support someone experiencing poor mental health.  The findings supported peer-based programs tailored to the male-dominated workforce with participants feeling a lot more confident to talk and support their peers. Beyond Blue (non-profit organisation supporting mental health) has a workplace branch to their organisation, Head Ups, who are also spearheading support and research for mental health alongside the federal and state governments and RUOK.

WellteQ understands that good mental health is vital in the workplace.  It goes beyond providing an ROI, it generates a positive work culture through creating support systems, trust, staff retention and good morale. As companies mature in their understanding of health at work,  WellteQ provides digital health support focusing on team challenges, personal health journeys, increasing physical activity and understanding the mind and body connection. Results from WellteQ’s multifaceted programs have included

  • Overall health: 44% improvement
  • Energy levels: 29% improvement
  • Resilience: 15% improvement
  • Perceived job performance: 54% improvement
  • Stress at home: 37% reduction
  • Stress at work:  10% reduction

Nutrition And Exercise Play An Important Part In Mental Health

Research has proven that good nutrition and regular exercise improves mental health. Therefore encouraging employees to make better food decisions and move more significantly improves mood as well as approaching mental health head-on. Arming employees with tools to manage stress and increasing their health literacy is key to caring more for their health, recognising the signs and symptoms of stress or behaviour change and may become more resilient to certain situations.

Variety Is The Key To Success

Although there is still a long way to go to improve the wellbeing of workers, there is some fantastic research and current programs showing successful intervention. Remember that variety is key. Consider the demographics of your workforce and peers: gender, age, industry and cultural background to name a few. Tailor your program and ensure you capture data and track changes to best understand your workforce to provide the support they need.

What are you looking at for next year’s programs?

How does your company currently initiate mental health programs?

How have wellbeing programs worked for you?

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