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The huge impact of mental health on business

Margo Lydon




Mental health conditions are common among the working-age Australian population and represent a significant cost, both to organisations and to individuals. Around 45 per cent of Australians between the ages of 16 and 85 experience a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime. In a given 12-month period, 20 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition.

The statistics are compelling, but they don’t provide any clues or solutions about what a business can do to effectively manage this risk of workplace-related psychological injuries or mental illness, and support their employees, irrespective of where the injury occurred or the “causes” of illness. The financial services industry, in particular, has significant challenges to address.

Financial industry hardest hit

The prevalence of mental health conditions is highest in the financial services industry with 33 per cent of people experiencing a mental health condition. With high investment in developing talent and the demands on employees continuing to grow, it is increasingly important for businesses to understand and effectively manage the mental health of their people in the workplace.

There are significant opportunities for the industry to improve their culture and their workplaces through a range of programs and resources offered by SuperFriend, a mental health promotion foundation established by the Industry Funds Forum. Supported by “all profit to member” superannuation funds and their associated group life insurers, SuperFriend is a clear example of how the financial services industry can lead innovative and effective change.

SuperFriend’s work focuses on the development, promotion and facilitation of information, resources, programs and research insights about mental health and wellbeing.

By improving people’s understanding of these areas, SuperFriend seeks to influence and foster mentally healthy, supportive work environments where people flourish and thrive.

Work has an important role in fostering positive mental health. It allows us to pursue goals, experience mastery and develop meaningful relationships. SuperFriend has developed guidelines containing actionable strategies that organisations, teams and individuals can use to promote positive mental health in and through the workplace.

Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Workplace – Guidelines for Organisations has practical tips and actionable strategies that organisations, teams and individuals can use to develop a work environment that promotes positive mental health, supports positive leadership style, cultivates effective communication, and assists staff to reach their potential and drive optimal performance.

Good for business

Mental health conditions present substantial costs to organisations. However, through the successful implementation of an effective action to create a mentally healthy workplace, organisations, on average, can expect a positive return on investment of $2.30. These benefits typically take the form of improved productivity, via reduced absenteeism and presenteeism (reduced productivity at work), and lower numbers of compensation claims.

The finance industry also has legislative and practice responsibilities when it comes to managing the impact of mental health, in particular relating to the management of claims for the impact of mental illness.

To address this significant industry challenge, SuperFriend released ‘Taking Action: A Best Practice Framework for the Management of Psychological Claims’. This evidence-based framework is the first of its kind in Australia and provides recommendations for improving psychological claims management in the group insurance and broader personal injury sectors.

To support increased staff capability, SuperFriend facilitates specialist mental health training for staff from superannuation funds, group life insurers and fund administrators to enable them to confidently “step into” conversations with members who may be in distress, at risk, or experiencing a mental health issue or at risk of suicide.

While mental health can be a challenging subject for business to address, the outcomes for the workforce, productivity gains and improved business practice are considerable. National Mental Health Commission chairman Allan Fels recently stated: “I believe that the economic gains from mental health reform actually dwarf the gains that would be achieved from many of the other economic reforms being talked about at present”. This is an opportunity for the financial services industry to lead by example and make significant and lasting change.


Margo Lydon is SuperFriend chief executive officer and company secretary.