Mental health is billion-dollar issue in Australian workplaces. We look at why it’s so important.

Mental health is a huge workplace issue that should be top of mind for managers and leaders across all industries.

Why? Because investing in mental health is a win-win for organisations – as Virgin CEO Richard Branson says, “happy employees, happy customers, happy investors.”

Mental health conditions are common and, when left untreated, expensive. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 45 per cent of Australians between the ages of 16 and 85 will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. It’s estimated that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year – $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism and $146 million in compensation claims.

The State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report by beyondblue found that one in five Australian employees say that they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the past 12 months. Employees who believed their workplace was mentally unhealthy were almost four times more likely to have stayed home from work due to their mental state.

According to Safe Work Australia, 91 per cent of workers’ compensation claims involving a mental health condition were linked to work-related stress or mental stress between 2010–11 and 2014–15. The occupations with the highest rates of workers’ compensation claims for mental health issues were train and tram drivers, police, Indigenous health workers, prison officers and ambulance officers and paramedics.

The most common sources of stress were work pressure (31 per cent), work-related harassment and/or bullying (27 per cent) and exposure to workplace or occupational violence (14 per cent).

Workplace bullying, defined as “repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety”, is a risk factor for anxiety, depression and suicide. A serious workplace issue, bullying costs Australian organisations between $6 billion and $36 billion every year through absenteeism and reduced productivity.

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Investing in mental health

It clearly makes good business sense for employers to create a mentally healthy workplace for workers. Analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the return on investment (ROI) on investment in mental health was 2.3 – so for every dollar an organisation spends on creating a mentally healthy workplace, it gains on average $2.30 in benefits.

Employers also have specific legal requirements regarding mental health in the workplace. Under the national Disability Discrimination Act, an employer must make reasonable adjustments for an employee who has a mental health condition, as long as they can still perform the core requirements of the job. Employers must also prevent harassment of an employee who has a mental health condition.  

Workplace health and safety regulations also require employers to ensure the safety of their employees, which means protecting staff from psychological as well as physical risks. At the same time, workers have a responsibility to take care of their health and safety and not to jeopardise the health and safety of others.

Mental health is something the broader community strongly cares about. According to the State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report, nine out of ten Australian employees believe mentally healthy workplaces are important, but only five in ten think their workplace is mentally healthy.

What does a mentally healthy workplace look like?

According to the Heads Up website, a mentally healthy workplace has a positive work culture, manages stress and other health risks, supports people with a mental health condition, and has a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.

The State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia states that: “A mentally healthy workplace is one that protects and promotes mental health and empowers people to seek help for depression and anxiety, for the benefit of the individual, organisation and community.”

It’s vital that leaders and senior management talk about how they value mental health in the workplace and implement policies that demonstrate their commitment to the issue – whether it’s offering flexible conditions, providing counselling and training in mental health or minimising overtime.


Read more about healthy workplaces at the Heads Up website.