By Phillipa Wilson, Founder and MD of Premium Health
Despite the global growth of workplace wellness trends, many businesses are still hesitant to discuss mental health in the workplace. One key reason is that they’re scared of opening a Pandora’s Box of mental health claims.
But is “malingering” – the act of faking a mental health issue – really a problem in the wake of wellness discussions at work?
Unleashing the beast: but the beast is real
A Pandora’s Box is defined as “a process that, once begun, generates many complicated problems.” If we start talking about workplace wellbeing, will employees take unnecessary advantage of mental health employee rights? If we implement a mental health policy, will it be exploited outside the confines of its intended purpose?
The reality is, although cases of malingering are possible, they’re unlikely to be made by employees actually engaged in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. And they’re also unlikely to overshadow the positive impact that mental health strategies have on workplace wellbeing. Statistics show that implementing policies and mental health training has immediate monetary value – with some Australian industries realising ROI of up to $15 for every $1 invested in mental health.
It’s also unlikely that employees can maintain a façade of ill mental health for extended periods – actual mental health issues or illnesses are often quite complex, exhausting and relatively hard to falsify.
The numbers agree: a few studies have shown that only 7% of psychiatric disorder claims really turn out to be fake – a small price to pay if your mental health strategy supports and prevents the other 93%.
Better to be safe than sorry
Leaving mental health issues unaddressed is far more likely to cause real problems. In fact, BeyondBlue found that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion each year. This is made up of $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism (unnecessary overtime) and $146 million in compensation claims.
With the additional knowledge that almost half (45%) of Australians will suffer from legitimate mental health issues at some point in their lives, it seems that – despite concerns – addressing employee wellbeing is important and inevitable. So how do we do it without fuelling concerns of letting the unwanted cat out the bag?
Education is key
We’re still in the relatively early stages of destigmatising mental health issues as a society. Many businesses aren’t even aware of what kind of support they need to be providing, or how to have conversations about mental health comfortably. So, avoidance and doubt are easy options, and entirely understandable.
Clear education around what mental health policies exist and best practice around staying well at work is a vital step forward. And understanding the impacts of leaving issues unaddressed is also a powerful way to allay fears.
Because those impacts are significant: unaddressed mental health issues can lead to myriad problems, including increased absenteeism in the workplace, high levels of stress, low productivity, major job dissatisfaction, reduced workplace performance and potentially more serious cases of mental illness.
The bottom line is that if employees are struggling, they’ll carry their issues through into their work – whether or not they’re speaking about them. We need to be proactively addressing their wellbeing, getting them engaged in their work and creating a holistic environment where they feel no need to hide their issues, nor a need to fake them.
Phillipa Wilson is the Founder and Managing Director of Premium Health, an RTO that delivers premium health outcomes within Australian workforces including mental health and wellbeing training: www.premiumhealth.com.au.
Premium Health offers mental health training including mental health awareness and effective conversations and Mental Health First Aid at your workplace and public venues across Australia.