18 Dec 2016

Mental health and productivity

From Sunday Morning, 7:50 am on 18 December 2016

New research has identified a link between psychological health and lost productivity at work, which is costing more than $12 billion worldwide every year.

Harry Becher from the Asia Pacific Centre for Work health and Safety at the University of South Australia says employers needs to be more concerned about their workers' mental health.


Workplace Photo: 123RF

His research shows that in Australia workers in psychologically unhealthy workplaces produce $2000 less in productivity than their healthy equals.

Psycho-social safety is all about whether the senior management within a work place take action and have a commitment to protect the mental health of workers or creating a good "psycho-safety climate" in the work place.

And he says a failure to do so hits the bottom line in the long run.

"It's $6 billion a year in lost productivity in Australia. For years we've known this can be unfortunate for the workers but now we've worked out it is an immense cost to employers as well."

So what is a psychologically unsafe workplace?

Becher says excessive demands for long periods of time, bullying and harassment and poor work life balance are typical of workplaces where employees don't feel their mental health is a priority.

He and his colleagues have measured the costs to productivity of absenteeism and presenteeism (when a worker shows up but is disengaged) with sick days costing A$2.4 billion a year and reduced performance about $3.6 billion. 

"With presenteeism, they're coming in  to work but because their mental health is compromised they're not able to fully engage with their work. If you're suffering from job strain you can not fully commit yourself to your work especially for complex tasks that require a great deal of mental effort."

Some employers are starting to take this seriously, he says

"Some pretty large businesses are taking action to improve the climate of their workplaces and are seeing great dividends in response. A recent study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that every dollar spent on improving the mental health of their workers they got about a $2.30 return."

Pushing workers hard to reach a short term goal backfires in the end, he say.

"Our analysis has uncovered that over the long term this actually has pretty negative effects on the bottom line because over time their employees become much less productive and they also take a lot more sick days."

Poor psycho social safety costs companies dear in staff churn too, he says.