This is part two in a two-part series. In modern workplaces, we rely more on peoples’ intelligence and social skills than physical strength—this means mental health is a key to business success.

This presentation by Dr Chris Stevens will give an overview of why promoting psychologically safe and healthy workplaces is so important to people and business. Dr Stevens will also outline the current shift from a focus on psychological illness and reactive approaches, towards more proactive and positive health and safety management strategies.

Who is this presentation for?

This presentation is for leaders, managers, work health and safety consultants and all those who design work and work systems. If you are interested in understanding how you can contribute to a psychologically safe and healthy workplace, you will find this presentation valuable.

About the presenter

Dr Chris Stevens is Director and Principal Psychologist with CommuniCorp Group—a consultancy which specialises in maximising individual and organisational performance. Dr Stevens has over 20 years’ experience in consulting and facilitating groups and training programs, he is also an experienced therapist, organisational consultant, as well as an expert facilitator and trainer of facilitators.

Dr Stevens has conducted over one hundred psychological injury workers’ compensation investigations and has designed and facilitated many programs across Australasia and Europe for government, corporate and educational sectors.

Dr Stevens specialises in the systemic and practical development of psychologically safe and healthy workplaces.

Related information




Please note: This material cannot be copied, distributed, modified or used for commercial purposes, in whole or part, without express written consent of CommuniCorp Group.

High Performing Sustainable Workplaces and Mental Health, Part 1

Dr Chris Stevens

Director & Principal Psychologist, CommuniCorp Group

[Text: Australian Work Health & Safety Strategy 2012-2022, Virtual Seminar Series, Oct 2014]

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[CommuniCorp Group (logo) Text: This presentation cannot be copied, distributed, modified or used for commercial purposes in whole or in part, without express written consent of CommuniCorp Group]

[Text: High Performing Sustainable Workplaces and Mental Health, Part 1]

Dr Chris Stevens: [Director & Principal Psychologist - CommuniCorp speaking from lectern]

Over the past 10 or15 years there's been a very significant increase in the awareness in society and in workplaces [Audience watching presentation] about mental health. It has a much higher profile in the media and again as is attested by this turnout, there's a much higher awareness in workplaces. By and large this raise in awareness - this rising awareness is a good thing because it's beginning - and I emphasise that word 'beginning' - to dismantle some of the stigma attached to what is a very common and quite normal part of being human.

With close to half of us likely to have a psychological diagnosis in our lifetime, and - and about one in five Australians every year having a mental health diagnosis, it's more common than almost any physical ailment. The real challenge is to capitalise now and to turn this awareness in workplaces into practical actions to provide psychologically safe and healthy workplaces. A theme in this talk today is going to be about the nexus between high performing sustainable cultures and high levels of psychological wellbeing, and I'll be quoting plenty of evidence to that effect.

The challenges of modern workplaces are considerable. Workplaces - modern workplaces are requiring a switched on, highly productive workforce. You need people’s brains to be working well. You need them to have energy. You need your workers to have resilience and this is a very important topic because in my view what is required in modern workplaces, in modern life, is an unnatural level of resilience. The demands on people are much, much higher now and we can't just assume that people are naturally going to have the levels resilience that is required of them. The evidence is very clear by the way that people's average levels of stress are much higher these days. It's not that we're confronted by life-threatening issues, major crises. There is a kind of - the real problem that we're facing is the chronic level of elevated stress. It's a major risk factor for all of the psychological diagnoses and I think it's a key issue that's undermining quality of life and it's something that we need to address.

I don't think the world is going to change dramatically in the short term. The pressures for productivity and return on investment are - and for high performance are not going to go away.

[On screen PowerPoint slide, Text: Introduction.

1. Why psychological health & wellbeing in the workplace matters

2. Key business benefits for promoting mental health & wellbeing

Page 2 of 5

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3. Trends in workplace mental health

4. Psychologically safe & healthy workplaces (PS&HW)

5. Common workplace mental health issues

6. What to do, what NOT to do

7. PS&HW framework & action points]

As you can see from this agenda, we've got a lot to cover. It's a large and important topic and a great challenge and a great opportunity. You will note the topic is about psychological wellbeing not mental illness. It's an important theme as there's a very strong business case for developing wellbeing, in addition to its positive effect of reducing mental health concerns in workplaces. But beyond that there is a growing sophistication in how businesses are integrating psychological safety systems into their strategic plans and organisational processes.

So, another theme that I want to touch on today is that we shouldn't be looking at stuff that's separate to, or outside our business planning, our strategic plans, our business processes. We need to be thinking about what is best practice with respect to running a business or running an organisation and how does that help people stay healthy and vibrant?

Another very important and costly issue is that of return to work after psychological injury and I believe we've got safety people in the room and HR people, so you know exactly what I'm talking about. The treatment of workplace psychological injury is problematic to say the least. The outcomes are poor.

[On screen PowerPoint slide, Text: Why Psychological Health & Wellbeing in the Workplace Matters.

Impacts individuals during their prime working years – Often recurring and/or chronic

Impacts cognitive, interpersonal and motivational skills essential for productive work and social functioning – "invisible" illness with considerable stigma]

Why does psychological health and wellbeing in the workplace matter? Well, the first point here you can see is that broadly speaking it impacts individuals during their prime working years. So the peak of psychological issues for most people happen to coincide with their prime working years. So they're in your places.

The other thing about most mental health conditions is that they tend - not always - but they tend to recur and/or are chronic. I've got some stats later, but I might just pre-empt some of those. If you've got -you know - if you know that – you know - roughly one in five people in any year are going to have mental health concerns, you have people in your workplaces who either have a mental health concern or are on the way to it. They're struggling. When we look at the prevalence rate it's not "Do I have mental health concerns in my workplace?" It's "Who's got them?" and therefore you need to think strategically about – we'll talk about the cost of that, but you need to think about the psychosocial – and you'll hear this phrase psychosocial a fair bit - conditions that minimise the risk of worsening of those conditions or their reoccurrence. So just like we take a strategic approach to business decision making, we need to take a strategic approach to managing the psychosocial factors that either encourage health or illness.

When someone is suffering from a mental health concern it affects the whole person. It effects their cognitive functions such as problem solving or conceptual thinking or dealing with ambiguity or complexity. It affects their interpersonal relations. There tends to be more conflict around people with mental health concerns. It affects their motivation. All of these things are essential for productive work and social functioning and when you think about the nature of modern workplaces, increasingly we're not employing people for their backs – you know – Page 3 of 5

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they're not doing lifting and heavy labour. Of course there's still some, but increasingly the modern economy requires more cognitive and social skills. So it – there is no way a person with a mental health concern, that it's not going to affect their ability to function properly in the workplace.

The other thing about mental health that that I think needs emphasising is its comorbidity or its co-occurrence with other conditions, particularly physical ailments, especially chronic pain, that often one causes the other. So it will often coexist and there's also a high correlation between accidents and injuries in workplaces and those with mental health concerns usually not diagnosed. So, we also know that mental health is the fastest rising cause of long-term disability in Australia. The insurers are extraordinarily worried about it. I'm part of a committee that's looking at the claims experience of the insurers because they're very, very concerned about the cost of mental health and they're right to be concerned.

Speaking of costs, we'll go through these fairly quickly.

[On screen PowerPoint slide, Text: Cost of Poor Psychological Health in the Workplace.

Workplace stress costing the Australian economy $14.81 billion a year

250K + per psychological injury claim (Comcare, 2013)

Work pressure and harassment/bullying combined around 75% of psychological injury claims

Employees diagnosed with a mental health condition, 37% have not disclosed they have a mental illness

40-60% of employees with mental health issues will NOT seek help


Other costs – Individual, Family, Colleagues, Community]

The numbers vary as you know, about statistics. I think the summary here is, it's costing a lot. There's a $14.81 billion cost just for workplace stress. I think the mental health bill is over 20 billion a year. I believe the Comcare average claim cost is now higher than $250,000 per claim. We know that two factors are combined, work pressure which is a kind of conglomerate measure of the pressures people are feeling under work, and bullying and harassment account for 75% of psych injury claims. The biggest contributor to psych injury claims are bullying and harassment. It says here "37% have not disclosed they have a mental illness." In many workplaces that figure is substantially higher than that. We do a lot of work in top tier law firms and you can imagine, it's closer to 80% do not disclose. Why? Because they perceive it, probably accurately, as a career-limiting move.

More worrying is that somewhere between 40 and 60% depending on the sector, do not seek help when they're struggling with mental health. This is like having a broken leg and trying to hide it, and refusing to get it set. It's a direct parallel because most of the mental health conditions, particularly if they're got early, respond very well to treatment.

[On screen PowerPoint slide, Text: Why We Should Care About Workplace Mental Health.

2/3 of adults are at work 60% of waking hours

Mental disorders leading cause of disability burden in Australia (24%)

National harmonised WHS legislation: employers can be held personally accountable

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Mental illness costs Australia $28.6 billion per year (2.2% of GDP) (Medibank & Nous Group, 2013)

Stress-related claims cost Australia over $10 billion each year

Mental stress claims account for 10% of claims but 30% of claim costs]

We know that people are at work for 60% of their waking hours, so workplaces are ideal locations from a strategic – this is talking as a Psychologist now – are ideal locations to have an impact on Australia's mental health. It's the leading cause of disability burden. The game has changed – I think Carol you mentioned the harmonisation of the Workplace Health and Safety Act in 2012. I'll take you through some of the liabilities that you may be subject to as individuals and as corporations, but the bar has been lifted considerably. Every person in a workplace is potentially liable under the new legislation. There's that figure - the mental illness costs around $28.6 billion and stress-related claims about $10 billion. Mental health claims cost about three times more on average than the other claims. People are off work somewhere between three and four times longer on mental health claims which is where a lot of the cost is.

[On screen PowerPoint slide, Text: Benefits of Promoting a Psychologically Safe & Healthy Workplace.

Attraction & Retention, Image: Magnet

Improve Business, Image: Workers standing on top of a bar graph

Legal Obligations, Image: Judge's hammer

Increase Productivity, Image: Hand placing coin into piggy bank]

Let's talk about some of the benefits of promoting a psychologically safe and healthy workplace, and you can see the headings here. There's - fortunately because we've now got about over a decade's worth of research into these areas. We can say things with a little bit more confidence. Non-discriminatory employment in equitable workplaces have been shown to be more attractive to workers, they've been shown to retain workers and to have improved performance. So there are real attraction and retention benefits when people – when workplaces have a psychologically safe and healthy environment and I'll talk to you a little bit about what that looks like - they have a higher return on training, less staff turnover, less litigation and fines, lower WorkCover premiums, lower recruitment costs, less distraction in the workplace and they tend to produce better ideas – they're more innovative.

In terms of the legal obligation, that's the stick, the compliance aspect. You have to do this stuff under the Disability Discrimination Act, the Workplace Health and Safety Act and the Privacy laws. From a productivity perspective there is no doubt that psychologically healthy workplaces across the board outperform unhealthy workplaces from a productivity perspective. The Gallup organisation internationally has run many surveys looking at the relationship between wellbeing and productivity. Wellbeing is the single best predictor of productivity. It out-trumps engagement scores and it's obvious if you think about. It's rare that research reflects common sense, and in this case it does.

If you are highly stressed or feeling unwell physically or unwell psychologically, what are you like at work? What's your thinking process like? How does your productivity go? So this is really common sense and - and a practical matter. Alright so there is a strong business case as we'll see. I want to give you one example of this.

[On screen PowerPoint slide, Text: Benefits of Promoting a Psychologically Safe & Healthy Workplace. Graph showing percentage of Employee Turnover and percentage of Employees Reporting Chronic Work Stress for APA's 2012 PHWA Winners compared to US Average, Text: Psychologically Healthy Workplaces Have Lower Turnover, Less Stress] Page 5 of 5

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The American Psychological Association for the last 20 years has been running a Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program across the United States. Basically what they do – and by the way, the Australian Psychological Society is copying this. I don't mean that in any pejorative sense, just that they're thinking, "This is a good idea." They go into workplaces and they will brand a company or a business as a psychologically healthy workplace, accredited - if they roll out certain number of programs, psycho education, stuff around resilience etc, and every year and – you know – have we got any Americans in – in the room? We do. I met you at the coffee dispenser. Americans love award ceremonies.


They do and you're very good at them, and what they do is they have a kind of Academy Awards for Psychologically Healthy Workplaces every year and what's interesting about what they do is they then look at the - the award winners in this psychologically healthy space and they compare them on a number of metrics against matched organisations in their sector. So, it's evidence based and I've only put a couple of the results here, but you can see there's a massive difference between employee turnover in these award-winning organisations who've implemented psychologically healthy workplace practices - 11% versus 36%, one third of the turnover, and very significant lowering in chronic work stress. Remember that's that chronic stuff that's the most damaging. There are other statistics of course. There's 14% less people seeking employment elsewhere and a much higher rate of workers recommending that workplace as a place to work and higher satisfaction rating. So, we're beginning to see some very concrete results on the bottom line actually.

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