The multi-billion dollar opportunity most businesses are missing out on

Invest in most things right now and you will be lucky to achieve a return of more than a few per cent. One notable exception is workplace mental health. Recent research from Price Waterhouse Coopers and Beyond Blue shows that for every $1 invested in effective mental health actions, businesses can expect a return of $2.30.

Mental illness costs the Australian economy over $11 billion a year in lost productivity. Rather than continuing to hide from the problem, many organisations are beginning to realise improving workplace mental health presents a huge opportunity. Investing in mental health measures can significantly cut absenteeism, turnover and worker compensation claims. It can also boost productivity and lead to an organisation becoming an employer of choice.

Psychologist Sadhbh Joyce is a researcher with the UNSW Workplace Mental Health Team and founder of start-up rawmindcoach.com. She says “for too long workplace mental health has been seen as too hard. Many businesses simply don’t know what to do and only respond in a reactive manner to problems.”

rawmindcoach.com is instead focused on prevention. The new e-learning program teaches workers a range of skills including mindfulness, which research has shown to be effective in building psychological resilience. “We recognise that some employers can find it tricky to tackle workplace mental health. Our aim is to make it simple for them to make a real difference,” says Joyce.

Resilience focused programs can address problems that often go unseen. While up to one in six of the working population are currently experiencing a mental illness, far fewer will choose to disclose they are experiencing a problem. Many employers fail to grasp the scale of the problem or realise the true reasons why workers aren’t performing at their peak.

While Australian workplaces are generally good at preventing physical injuries, most still have a long way to go when it comes to preventing psychological injuries. Thankfully there are signs of change. Mental health is becoming less of a taboo topic and many employers are beginning to move away from their old “toughen up” attitudes. Smart organisations are switching on to the idea that improving workplace mental health makes incredibly good business sense.

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