More than half of business leaders out of their depth when it comes to mental health: study

More than half of Australian business leaders admit they do not know how to tackle mental health issues in the workplace, according to research published today.

A survey of 500 business owners, leaders and managers commissioned by mental health organisation beyondblue and the Business Council of Australia as part of the new “Heads Up” workplace mental health campaign, found almost 90% of business leaders believe Australian businesses need practical support for tackling mental health issues in their workplaces and 84% support a campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues in the business community.

However, 45% of respondents think while mental health is a problem, it does not represent a major cost to businesses and 43% say businesses have more important issues to think about.

Recent PwC research found mental health conditions cost Australian businesses at least $10.9 billion each year. This includes $4.7 billion in workers missing days of work, $6.1 billion in unwell workers still attempting to work, and $146 million in compensation claims.

According to the research, untreated depression results in more than six million working days lost across the country each year, while 12 million days are estimated to be lost to reduced productivity among staff.

However, the research found small businesses have the most to gain from investing in the mental health of their employees.

PwC said businesses can expect an average return on investment from appropriate mental health strategies of $2.30 for every dollar spent. And Harman told SmartCompany the return on investment can jump as high as $15 for small businesses.

“This is because a lot of the benefits come from improving staff participating, which is often easier to do in small businesses,” she says.

Beyondblue chief executive Georgie Harman told SmartCompany this survey included small and medium sized businesses. 

“All the small and micro-sized businesses I’ve spoken to know this is a real issue for their businesses,” says Harman. “They speak of their staff as family and they have a close proximity to them.”

Harman says small business owners are also often under a large amount of stress and therefore at risk of suffering from mental health issues. “We’ve got to not come down hard on business owners, who also need to look after themselves,” says Harman. “If you go under, your business will usually go under too.”

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, also told SmartCompany it is important to focus on the mental health of employers, as well as employees, especially in small businesses.

“An employee can be concerned for an employer, it does happen,” says Strong. “Especially in small businesses, you all care for each other. Mental health is everyone’s responsibility.”

Strong says this concern should also extend to the members of the business who may have family members who suffer from mental illnesses.

Strong says it is important individuals don’t try to fix a situation themselves, and instead seek help from external sources such as beyondblue for themselves and their co-workers.

“For us, the win from mental health is if everyone in a workplace has an awareness of everyone else’s mental health,” says Strong.

Anyone struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts should contact Lifeline 13 11 14. 


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