How we lose six million working days a year (and how to stop)

By Alison Hill

October is Mental Health Month, when we are all encouraged to think about our own mental health as well as the mental health of those around us. Given that we spend an average of 40 per cent of our time at work, mental health in the workplace is clearly important. As a result of spending so much time together, our colleagues may know us better than anyone else, and we may be best placed to support them.

Beyondblue has published these astonishing statistics about mental health at work in Australia.

  • One in five people will be experiencing a mental health condition at any one time
  • Six million working days are lost each year as a result of untreated depression
  • Untreated mental ill-health costs the Australian economy $10.9 billion each year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.

During October, make it your priority to focus on mental health. Start by becoming more aware of the issues. The ABC’s ‘Mental As…’ initiative is presenting television programs, radio shows and podcasts about mental health issues, and has a dedicated website. Being more aware of mental health conditions and how they affect people is an important first step in getting rid of the stigma attached to mental illness. The most prevalent mental illnesses in our community are depression and anxiety. Start by informing yourself about them.

Unfortunately, the workplace itself can put mental health at risk. Research by beyondblue and others has shown that these factors make mental illness more likely:

  • Long hours and/or shift work
  • Fly-in/fly out work arrangements
  • Demanding deadlines and targets
  • A heavy workload
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Lack of appropriate recognition and reward
  • High emotional or intellectual demands
  • Poorly managed change
  • A low level of control over tasks and responsibilities (see our last blog post about job crafting)
  • Bullying and discrimination

It’s up to everybody in the workplace to create a mentally healthy workplace. Heads Up, a mental health organisation dedicated to giving individuals and businesses free tools and resources to take action, recommends that we:

  • increase awareness of people’s responsibilities relating to mental health
  • reduce stigma
  • build the skills and confidence to approach someone who may be experiencing difficulties
  • encourage staff with mental health conditions to seek treatment and support early
  • support staff with mental health conditions to stay at or return to work
  • monitor and manage workloads
  • increase input into how people do their work
  • prevent bullying and discrimination

Research by professional services firm PwC has shown that for every dollar spent to create a mentally healthy workplace, the return is $2.30. That seems like a good investment.

For the rest of October, Challenge Consulting will focus on resources that will help you to create a mentally healthy workplace.  Here are two to get you started: