Workplace mental health has always been second to physical health. It has been ignored, stigmatised, misunderstood, sometimes even punished. However, it seems COVID may have triggered change. Has this pandemic forced us to come face to face with issues that have been swept under the rug for too long?  

The State of Workplace Mental Health

Employees are no longer willing to settle for psychologically unsafe workplaces, or conditions that have detrimental effects on their mental health. With employee wellbeing brought to the forefront, we have finally had to confront the elephant in the room (or should we say, the black dog?) The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), released a report in November 2022 forecasting that by 2030, workplace mental health compensation claims are predicted to double. 

Poor mental health costs the Australian government $70 billion a year. With reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, high staff turnover, and less engagement at work, it is also estimated that mental illness costs Australian businesses $39 billion a year. The changing work environment and expectations are major contributors to this increased incidence of poor workplace mental health.  

Can we really afford for mental health compensation claims to continue to increase?  

Download our Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace whitepaper here. 

So, let’s break it down. Firstly, what can employees claim for? And what is the employer’s responsibility? Secondly, what can employers or organisations do to invest and improve mental health at work?  

Workplace Mental Health Compensation Claims – what can you claim? 

Employers have a legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees – both physical and mental. According to Safe Work Australia, workers’ compensation is available for both physical and psychological injury and disease, if: 

  • The worker meets the scheme’s definition of worker or ‘deemed’ worker; AND 
  • Work is a significant contributing factor to their injury (psychological or physical).  

Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces – where to start? 

CEDA has outlined the below recommendations for workplaces to invest and improve in mental health. 

1. Assessment and monitoring – Undertake an assessment of where your workplace sits in terms of mental health and wellness. Use this as a baseline measure to regularly monitor once changes have been` implemented.  

This may look like staff engagement surveys, focus groups, interviews, data on workers compensation claims, employee absences, turnover rates and specific assessment tools (e.g., Safe Work NSW, People at Work). 

A group of five people sitting in an office around a coffee table having a discussion.

2. Job design – Use existing guidelines for job design that emphasise employee control and input over job design and/or re-design. Provide access to support, receiving feedback and learning opportunities.  

3. Quality mental health training for management and supervisors – Train those in leadership positions to identify and respond to mental health issues in the workplace, provide staff with the necessary support or referrals, and adjust working conditions where required.  

4. Develop, formalise and promote organisation wide mental health strategies – Consider where mental health sits in your organisation and where further investments are required. Hire leaders with emotional intelligence and positive leadership styles. Include employee wellbeing and mental health measures as part of KPIs.  

5. Early intervention – Provide access to quality and regularly reviewed EAP providers, invest in mental health training and wellbeing education for all employees and provide access to peer support programs.  

6. Response and support – If you have an employee on mental health leave, ensure consistent contact and support from management, flexible work arrangements/partial sick where possible. Create a return-to-work plan for those on long term mental health leave and employee access to professional services that support mental health. 

7. Added extras – After the previous elements have been addressed and invested in, consider added health and wellbeing extras.  

Some examples of extras that boost employee wellbeing include free exercise classes, access to fruit and vegetables in the office kitchen, subsidised gym memberships or massages.  

Ultimately, if we want to see significant changes in workplace mental health, we need to invest in prevention. Workplace wellbeing programs create a lasting positive change. Better Being’s science-backed wellbeing programs are designed for corporations and individuals and deliver measurable benefits.  

Ready to implement a wellbeing program with tangible benefits for everyone involved?