How empathy and knowledge can boost workplace productivity

Mental Health First Aid Training Corporate social responsibility

Mental Health First Aid® is a win/win for companies and employees alike

Let’s examine why your business & employees need Mental Health First Aid (MHFA™) training?

Large and medium organisations within Australia all have first aid officers, to ensure the physical safety of employees is adequately protected. But what about psychological health and safety at work? The world’s first International Standard (ISO 45003) was published earlier this year to give guidance on occupational health and safety.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says mental illness affects one in five Australians. Further, the Productivity Commission’s recent draft report on mental health estimated the cost of mental ill-health and suicide to be $500 million a day. The direct economic impact is estimated at 140 million per day, translating to an annual cost of $28.6 billion.

Below we highlight how skill-based training to address mental health concerns within the corporate environment can boost workplace productivity, and how addressing employee’s mental health in an open conversation is a win/win for all involved. There are many training programs available as endorsed by Beyond Blue, including Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).

What is Mental Health First Aid?

First, let’s clarify what is Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)? MHFA is the initial support provided to someone who has a mental health problem or is experiencing a mental health crisis. It’s a thoroughly evaluated, evidence informed (in partnership with the University of Melbourne), skills development course. What makes this training powerful is that the guidelines were developed using the Delphi consensus method, where consumers, carers, health professionals and researchers work together to recommend best practice.

While MHFA training was developed in Australia two decades ago to challenge the stigma and help members of the public identify and respond to signs of mental ill health in friends, family and community members. Many major corporations were early adopters. It’s importance has only more recently been filtering down to smaller businesses and let’s call a spade a spade by acknowledging that “recent global events’’ have greatly increased the need and interest in MHFA.

In fact, just prior to the effects of the pandemic arriving on our shores, I spoke to a Business Advisor about my proposed target-market and they counselled me that small  medium businesses would not have the funds nor interest to provide MHFA to their staff. Ironically a year and a half later I’m comforted to know that small-medium business are in fact regularly contacting me to take up the MHFA for their organisations.

Why does your business and employees need MHFA training?

The statistics speak for themselves. Prior to COVID-19 the need to address and provide solutions for an ever growing mental health concern within Australia’s workforce was evident. Throw COVID-19 into the mix and the need is dire. Did you know that on the 2nd of August this year, Lifeline received 3,345 calls which is the highest daily volume of calls in their 58-year history.

By providing mental health education across all levels of staff, it raises organisation-wide awareness, increases understanding and tolerance and open conversations, while reducing the stigma and behaviours often entrenched in Aussie culture to be self-reliant and basically “suck it up”.

It’s encouraging to note that many organisations are recognising the importance of a mentally healthy workplace. The supermarket giant Woolworths, is a great example of how MHFA can be implemented within the work culture. Woolworths created R U OK? ambassadors and invested in training for 1500 staff to become accredited mental health first aid officers.

How does mental health first aid training benefit corporations?

Listed below we highlight some of the benefits of implementing mental health first aid training within Australian businesses.

  • Reduces sick leave — According to Safe Work Australia “20 times more sick days per month [are] taken by workers with severe depression”.
  • Reduces presenteeism and absenteeism — Presenteeism refers to attending work while ill. If a stigma is removed and acknowledgement that a ‘mental health day’ may be needed, employees will likely return to work feeling valued and ultimately increase productivity and focus. According to a 2017 study conducted by UTS and the University of Sydney, presenteeism costs businesses an average of $3,401 per year for a worker experiencing mental ill-health and up to $5,305 for workers with severe mental ill-health.
  • Demonstrates commitment to corporate social responsibility — According to Safework NSW nearly 80% of NSW workplaces take a reactive or ad-hoc approach to mental health at work.
  • Ensures compliance with legislation. Employers have a responsibility to maintain a safe and healthy workplace, maintain privacy, make reasonable adjustments and not discriminate.
  • Reduces staff turnover and worker’s compensation claims — the productivity and success of your business depends on the people who work in your organisation. In a mentally healthy workplace, worker’s compensation claims and staff turnover in relation to mental health will be minimised.
  • Retains staff —  People spend one third of their lives at work, it can be their home away from home. A cohesive workplace culture leads to staff retention. When there is genuine concern and care for a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, and employees feel comfortable to share what is going on for them, a positive workplace culture is created.
  • Increases worker engagement — when a worker feels valued and able to speak openly about mental health, then early intervention is more likely. Not merely a number, but as a valued staff member, they will naturally be more engaged. Of course each individual has the right to weigh up the pros and cons for their particular circumstances.
  • Supports recovery — If a person feels supported through their mental health challenges, they will recover faster and therefore cost less in stress leave, etc. for businesses.
  • Increases Return on Investment (ROI) — A 2014 research study conducted by Beyond Blue and PwC found for every $1 invested in taking action to create a mentally healthy workplace, Australian companies see on average of $2.30 return on investment.

Simply put, a healthy employee, equals a healthy company and therefore a healthy bottom line. Appointing Mental Health First Aid Officers in your workplace is a positive way to demonstrate that your business cares about individual health and well-being.

To find out more about completing accredited Mental Health First Aid Training, visit our courses page or complete our enquiry form.


 About the author – Tania Gutierrez

Founder of Mental Health Training Essentials

Tania is an accredited Principal Master Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor, with extensive experience delivering MHFA workshops, since 2013. Should you require training assistance in your organisation, please don’t hesitate to contact Tania directly.