It’s time to acknowledge the large elephant in the workplace. People suffer from physical and mental illness. According to Mary Jo Fisher, past parliamentarian and ambassador for BeyondBlue, “45% of Australians will suffer mental illness in their lifetime… one in five of us will suffer mental illness in the next year.” (ProPrint, July 2014)
A worker with an untreated mental illness will take 3-4 sick days a month off as they try to cope with their condition. This will cost their employers almost $10,000 a year in absenteeism, presenteeism and down time. Do a back-of-the-envelope calculation on that. An outfit of just five staff will have one of them suffering a mental illness this year and that will cost $10k. A company with staff 50 will lose $100k straight off the bottom line.
Kinds of illness
Think of mental illness in the same way as physical illness. The analogy isn’t perfect but it helps. A cold or flu can be caught and need a day of rest. Stress, worry and fatigue might fall into this category, or a one off incident at work. A viral infection might take you out for longer. Mild depression, anxiety and insomnia might fall into this category as would a series of difficult incidents at work. Some illnesses like Ross River Fever degrade core strength over a prolonged period of time. Chronic fatigue syndrome and work place bullying might fall into this category. (1)
What leaders can do
The report Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace – Return on Investment Analysis (March 2014) lists seven key actions with supporting activities business can use to create mentally healthier workplaces. Guess what tops the list?
- Coaching and mentoring – thinking based, action oriented coaching especially around personal development and self leadership;
- Worksite physical activity programs – taking breaks every 45 minutes, lunchtime fitness programs, onsite gyms;
- Mental health first aid and education – responding quickly to the signs and not ignoring issues as they arise (particularly HR departments);
- Resilience training;
- CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) – return-to-work programs and access to well-being psychologists;
- Well-being checks – annual health screening and wellness or happiness indicator tests;
- Encouraging employee involvement – teamwork, team building and participation in decision making processes (especially when it involves the employee’s own future).
The report, compiled by PwC and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, found that for every $1 a business spends on mental health it gains $2.30 in return on investment (ROI) making this a worthwhile investment. Many small to medium businesses will find the costs of embracing all seven aspects daunting, but for larger enterprises the costs are going to far outweigh the investment.
As a coach we need to consider how to offer ourselves into this market. You don’t have to have mental expertise, or a psychology background. You need to have thinking based, action oriented coaching skills focussing especially on personal development and self leadership. Well – that’s most of us, so come on now, don’t be shy.
1) Disorders such as schizopherenia, depression, bipolar, anorexia, paranoia, OCD and PTSD would be more akin to physical disabilities and are more permanent in nature.