UNDERSTANDING the importance of employee mental health and wellbeing in work environments is coming into sharper focus for enlightened Australian business leaders.
Experience is showing the effects can be both economically and socially vital, according to a recent survey by SuperFriend, a national mental health promotion foundation created by the Industry Funds Forum, an association whose members are the CEOs of Australia's largest industry super funds
A survey of super fund executives, group insurers and corporate HR employees who attended the recent 2013 SuperFriend Symposium in Melbourne revealed Australian businesses are beginning to understand the importance of the mental health and wellbeing of employees.
With one in five Australians experiencing mental illness in any given year and 45.5 percent of the Australian population aged 16-85 experiencing a mental health issue in their life time, SuperFriend CEO Margo Lydon said workplaces needed to realise it was far better to support employees and keep them in work irrespective of whether they are living with a mental illness.
She said by providing a positive work environment, research showed staff productivity increased, and there were reductions in staff turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism, along with an overall improvement in morale.
While the majority of respondents (60 percent) said their workplace currently invested in promoting mental health and wellbeing, Ms Lydon said it was important to note that the majority of the survey respondents were already a step ahead in understanding the impact of mental health problems.
"It is an encouraging first step to see that majority of attendees have workplaces currently investing in promotion of mental health and wellbeing, however, the situation extends beyond this group and impacts all Australian workplaces," Ms Lydon said.
"We understand that Australian businesses have a multitude of priorities and it is a difficult task to juggle all of these. However, businesses need to understand that people are their greatest asset and there are a range of benefits from creating a mentally healthy workplace which impact both the culture and the profitability of the company."
According to the survey, 43 percent of group insurers and corporate HR employees believed improved morale and job satisfaction to be the main benefit of ensuring Australian workplaces promote positive mental health and wellbeing. About 30 percent viewed increased staff productivity as the second major reason.
"The benefits of investing in programs that promote a mentally healthy workplace are mutually beneficial to both the organisation and the worker," Ms Lydon said.
Over half (56%) of delegates said their workplaces were engaging in activities to promote a healthy work/life balance to improve mental health and wellbeing, followed closely by engaging in RUOK conversations (44%) which encourages and empowers all Australians at work to regularly and meaningfully ask ‘are you ok?'.
"There are a number of initiatives employers can implement to nurture a healthy workplace," Ms Lydon said.
"It can be as simple as encouraging workers to connect with their colleagues, having an R U OK? At Work event and ensuring strong leadership of employees. Workplaces will also benefit from training staff in early detection of mental illness and on supporting employees while they seek assistance," she said.
SuperFriend has developed as a national foundation aimed at improving the mental health and wellbeing of industry superannuation fund members, employers and staff. SuperFriend's mission is to reduce the incidence of suicide and the impact of mental illness on individuals, employers, workplaces, friends and families, Ms Lydon said.
"SuperFriend is interested in a total holistic solution, not just an economic one, or a human one. Addressing these imminent issues is about achieving total health," Ms Lydon said.
SuperFriend collaborates with industry funds, group insurers and the mental health sector to facilitate targeted workplace mental health initiatives for members of these funds.