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Workplace mental health programmes: are they worth the investment?

Recently, increased focus has been placed on the role of mental health in the workplace; recognising both the impact of the burden of mental health on the individual and the organisation and the subsequent stress that workplaces place on their employees.  Within New Zealand, the Health and Safety at Work Act (2015) places responsibility on the employer to protect the health (including mental health) of employees.  However, many organisations believe that such programmes are expensive and that the cost of workplace wellbeing programmes outweighs the benefits.

Why is mental health in the workplace important?

To consider whether workplace mental health wellbeing programmes are worth the investment, it is important to firstly consider the organisational costs associated with poor employee mental health.  These costs include higher employee absenteeism due to poor mental health; presentism leading to poor performance and negative impact on other staff; and higher employee turnover leading to increased costs associated with recruitment and training of new employees. Due to these factors, the World Health Organisation predicts that mental illness will be the leading cause of absence and disability in the workplace by 2030[1] and that proactive management will be required to prevent this.

What does evidence show?

Whilst mental health programmes in the workplace do come with a cost to set-up, evidence shows that as the programmes mature, cost savings increase[2] and that these programmes mitigate that rising cost of mental health burden.  The most effective programmes are those that support employees in all areas of the wellness spectrum, from those in crisis through to boosting the resilience of those that are functioning well. Likewise, programmes need to  target and be tailored to all areas and levels of the organisation from entry-level roles through to management. 

What can be done?

To develop the most effective workplace mental health intervention, organisations need to review their goals for their workplace wellbeing  programme and what is already in place or available to support their employees.  Ideally, this is undertaken from an objective position to allow the organisation to be critically evaluated and to find a solution that best fits the employer and the employee.  This may be further enhanced by engaging a consultant with expertise in the area of workplace wellbeing to further support the organisation’s development.

Whilst this process may sound costly, it is estimated that for every $1.00 spent on workplace wellness, the organisational return is $4.20 and that organisations that value wellbeing have higher productivity1. So the real question isn’t “can we afford the investment?” but rather “can we afford not to invest in workplace mental health?”.

- Dr Liesje Donkin

 Workplace Wellness Lead 

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[1] https://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/global_plan/en/

[2] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ca/Documents/about-deloitte/ca-en-about-blueprint-for-workplace-mental-health-final-aoda.pdf

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